Police budget comes under scrutiny at city hall

Toronto's budget committee has voted against recommending this year's police budget as the chair of the committee vows to closely scrutinize police spending.
Budget chief Mike Del Grande says he has not seen a definitive study on the number of police that are needed to service a city such as Toronto. (CBC)

Toronto's budget committee has voted against recommending this year's police budget as the chair of the committee vows to closely scrutinize police spending.

The matter of the police budget will now be considered by the mayor's executive committee.

The meeting Thursday comes as budget chief Mike Del Grande tries to whittle down an opening budget shortfall of $200 million.

It's nearly $500 million less than the "opening pressure" identified by the city manager at the start of the budget process in 2011 when city departments were asked to cut their budgets by 10 per cent.

Meanwhile, city manager Joe Pennachetti is asking that there be no budget increase — essentially a freeze on spending.

But Coun. Doug Ford says the search for cost reductions won't stop there.

"Some areas might be zero or less, and then some may not have as much room,  but we are going to squeeze every efficiency we can out of the city," said Ford.

Del Grande said Thursday he has "thorough questions" of the nearly $1 billion police budget.

Last year, while other departments cut spending, the police budget went up. 

Coun. Peter Milczyn said the police were the only department not to offer a reduction last year, though police spokesperson Mark Pugash said most of the budget is tied up in salary and benefit obligations.

"Nearly 90 per cent of our budget is salary and benefits, which means we have the remainder for computers, cars, gas, oil, cleaning and all those things," Pugash said.

Del Grande said in a Wednesday interview the police will be treated the same as everyone else.

"When we give them $1 million worth of capital we're basically taking the dollars from somewhere else.  One of the prime examples is that money could outfit eight playgrounds in the city," he said.

Del Grande has also questioned how many police are needed to patrol city streets, saying that he is not aware of a definitive study on the issue.

Chief Blair has expressed a desire to increase the size of the force, following two years of hiring freezes.

A tax increase could also be considered to balance the books. 

Mayor Rob Ford has requested a 1.75 per cent increase in 2013 followed by a two-year freeze.