Councillor blasts Regina police budget, says 'no easy answer' to staffing costs
More than half of RPS makes $100K; mayor says service already cut spending by 1.5 per cent
At least one city councillor believes the proposed spending plan for 2018 isn't good for Regina, and is concerned about how much money is being spent on policing.
"If I were to be forced to vote on it right now and it was 'Yes' or 'No,' I'd say 'no,'" Andrew Stevens said of the budget to CBC News in a recent interview.
"We're not investing in the future, I actually think we're not spending enough to maintain facilities, improve services."
"You're seeing the increase in taxes, but you're not seeing an increase in services."
Mayor Michael Fougere said the proposed budget, which earmarks $443 million to be spent on civic operations and some $132 million to pay for new capital projects, is about keeping the status quo.
"We're telling residents is that we are maintaining services, notwithstanding the loss of revenue from the province," he said.
Right now, residents are poised to pay about 5 per cent more in property taxes. Fougere points out how a chunk of that increase is making up for the money the provincial government slashed in the 2017 budget.
Regina Police Service pay (both civilian and officer positions) according to the 2016 compensation disclosure.:
- 150K or more: 12
- 125K or more: 77
- 100K or more: 266
- 75K or more: 82
- 50K or more: 113
Overall, the city's spending has increased from last year by $7.3 million, partly because an extra $3.4 million is going to the Regina Police Service to pay for staffing costs. One per cent of this year`s property tax increase is also attributed to the police budget, while another one per cent is to fix roads.
Regina Police Service staffing breakdown
Number of current full-time positions:
Civilian Casual: 12
From 2008 to 2018, the force has grown by 32 officers.
The 2018 budget indicates $87 million is expected to be spent on police operations, up from the $84 million in 2017, a roughly four per cent bump in spending.
Police spending largest per department
In the proposed budget, spending on policing accounts for 20 per cent of the budget for civic operations—the single largest chuck of departmental spending.
"You compare the massive inflation costs that we`re seeing in the police budget and we`re barely able to keep small community pools open," said Stevens.
He explained when you factor in the plan to convert the recently purchased former Saskatchewan Transportation Company building into a new police headquarters and include the costs of some of new capital purchases for police—such as a new tactical armoured vehicle—more than $100 million is being spent policing this year.
"It's a huge concern. Financially, what does this mean we can or cannot spend in the city?" said Stevens.
Over the past 11 years, more than 80 per cent of the police budget has paid for the wages and benefits of those in the force. This year nearly 89 per cent of its $87 million budget is expected to pay for staffing.
"I don't have the easy answer, but I do know that it is an issue and we're not getting at the root problems in our community with this type of spending," said Stevens, saying money should be going to frontline organizations that deal with the social determinants of crime.
Coun. Jerry Flegel also acknowledges the challenge, however, he said labour costs are fixed, and therefore out of the city's control.
He also said he hears from residents they want more boots on the ground.
Police spending already reduced: mayor
In a statement to CBC News, Fougere, who also serves as chair of the board of police commissioners—which passed the police budget behind closed doors—said he supports police spending.
"There have been steps taken to find efficiencies in the budget before it was presented to the public, resulting in a 1.5% decrease in operational expenses," Fougere said.
Lower tax increase?
Residents unhappy to hear of another tax hike may have some hope knowing some around the council table are eyeing ways to soften the blow.
Councillors Lori Bresciani and John Findura said they both want to find ways to bring down the property tax increase, but have no appetite to cut services—as was done when the 2017 budget was reopened due to the provincial budget shortfall.
"I also want to look at some of the projects that we're looking at doing, some of our bigger projects, maybe we have to slow down and maybe reduce one of the projects," said Bresciani.
Fougere said he also wants to see the tax increase reduced, but not everyone agrees.
Coun. Jason Mancinelli said he wants to see a greater take hike, by at least one or one-and-a-half percentage points.
"I think a little bit more has to be spent on long term thinking," he explained, pointing to plans that call for certain infrastructure like bike lanes to be built, but there is no dedicated money to get the projects done.
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