Halifax regional council rejects proposed $2M increase to police budget
'The time to change policing is now,' says deputy mayor
Halifax regional council rejected a proposed increased policing budget on Friday after a second day of deliberations.
Only three councillors — David Hendsbee, Becky Kent and Lisa Blackburn — spoke in favour of accepting the proposed budget. Halifax Regional Police sought a $2-million budget increase that would go toward hiring 25 new officers and nine civilians.
A motion to return the budget to the board of police commissioners with a new cap on service enhancements was accepted by a narrow margin.
Blackburn said she supports a committee's report on defunding the police that was submitted last month to the Halifax Police Board of Commissioners. The councillor said she had just met with committee chairperson and activist El Jones the previous day to discuss next steps.
Changes to policing are coming, Blackburn said, but right now, "it has been made clear that the front lines of the police force are drowning."
"Until all these alternative services and supports are in place, we need to keep the lights on," Blackburn said.
"We have 10,000 new residents moving to HRM each year. We have built a community the size of Truro in West Bedford, and all of that requires police services."
Majority of council reject budget, want change
Deputy Mayor Pamela Lovelace said she understands the difficult work and important role police play in the city, but she would be rejecting the budget.
"We know that we have issues on the ground, in our communities and in our police forces that need to be addressed," she said.
"I'm not convinced that adding more bodies is the right thing to do."
Council had three options: accept the proposed budget as is, including almost $3 million over the base budget for enhanced services like additional detectives, officers and 911 dispatchers; reject it and send it back to the board of police commissioners for revisions; or reject it and send it back to the board with a fixed financial target.
Halifax's chief of police had presented the budget of $90.8 million for 2022-23 in December — an increase of just more than $2 million from the existing budget.
Motion to return budget with new cap
After several hours of discussion, Coun. Tony Mancini motioned to send the budget back to the board of commissioners with instructions that service enhancements not exceed $1.3 million.
Mancini's rationale for this target was the approval of 13 new officers (down from the 25 proposed), and four new 911 dispatchers (down from eight). However, as was pointed out several times by commissioners and councillors, council has no control over how the budget is actually spent.
Several councillors said they would not be supporting the motion because the increase in funding was still too high.
Among them was Coun. Sam Austin who said he would not support Mancini's motion because he had not been convinced of the case for additional patrol or traffic officers, and the $1.3-million cap was still more than he could approve.
Coun. Patty Cuttel said she could not vote for the original budget or the recommended amendment because she felt they had not been given sufficient data.
"What is an effective and efficient police force?" Cuttel asked. "How many sworn officers do we actually need? I don't feel we've really been presented with that data."
Narrow margin on motion
In the end, the motion passed by a single vote with nine councillors voting to send the budget back to the board with a cap of $1.3 million for additional services.
The eight votes against the motion included councillors who preferred the original budget (Blackburn and Kent) and councillors who thought the new cap was still too high.
Coun. Cathy Deagle Gammon said she voted against the motion because although she agreed with sending the budget back to the board, she argued the new cap was arbitrary.
The board of police commissioners must now prepare a new budget for council's approval.