The provincial government should step in and revise the Act governing Police and Fire to place a limit on arbitration and reconciliation so that each municipality will be better equipped to forecast costs.
By Shekar Chandrashekar
Published May 02, 2013
This has been a triangle involving three players: City Council, the Police Services Board and the Police Association. Both the Police Services Board and the Police Association have a duty to answer to taxpayers through the chain of command of which City Council is the head.
City Council has been elected to protect and safeguard the interest of taxpayers. As a result, the Police Service Board should listen to City Council's direction. The Police Services Board budget process is guided by S 39 of the Police Services Act.
In 2012, City Council established a threshold amount of 2% increase in the levy for the year 2013. The threshold applied not only to city departments but to all agencies and independent boards. This was a mandate given to staff with clear instructions and direction to external agencies as well.
Nevertheless, when the Police Board budget meeting was held in public in the City Hall Council Chamber on November 27, 2012, the Police Chief, without any apology, and ignoring Councils resolution, presented his preliminary 2013 budget at 5.25%.
He presented detailed statistical data indicating a downturn of various criminal activities, however, the budget nonetheless included new hires of both sworn officers and a civilian. The Police Chief fielded a few questions from members of his Board at which point the Board decided to receive the budget for additional information and discussion.
Subsequently, the Police Services Board held three public meetings to obtain input and support for their 2013 budget increase. In their first public meeting, a question was asked whether they budgeted for the nonrefundable portion of HST. The answer from the deputies and from the accountant was "NO". That question was followed up in writing to verify and again the answer was "No".
The question is, Should they not provide for the nonrefundable portion of HST? This is another budgeting problem that the Police Services Board is faced with. Budgeting and accounting are interdependent.
Over the next few weeks, after some back and forth, the Police Chief reduced the increase to 3.71%. Councillor Bernie Morelli, former Chairman of the Police Services Board, said, "It is not going to fly at City Council".
This was the subject of a March 1, 2013 Hamilton Police Association memo addressed to the Councillor and copied to the Police Services Board and Chief, suggesting that additional new hires could be avoided by redeployment of existing officers.
The Police Chief's response was that the union head's proposal to cull officers from the Action team was "simplistic, myopic and self serving", as reported in the Spectator 19 March 2013.
This came after a press report on December 14, 2012 entitled "Low morale under City's police chief: Union survey," which reported that the Police Chief called the study "a tactic".
On April 10, 2013, City Council passed a resolution that the Police Services Board limit their increase to 3.52% and forwarded the same to the Police Services Boards consideration.
On April 15, 2013, Hamilton Police Board met at its regular meeting. The Police Chief recommended to the Board that they approve the bottom line of the City Council recommendation without going through line by line items.
During the course of Board meeting, the Chief presented his same arguments. Councillor Terry Whitehead, a member of the Board, made a passionate appeal to the Board for a further reduction because of the dialogue his son had with him at the breakfast table about affordability in these times.
Provincial appointees, including the chairperson, argued at length in support of the budget without providing any substance, focusing on "maintaining public safety." (These Board members might think that taxpayers are not that knowledgeable).
Mayor Bob Bratina sided with the provincial appointees. Councillor Morelli brilliantly argued that the increase could be reduced without jeopardizing public safety. Police services Board approved the 2013 budget in a four to two decision.
In summation, this division among City Council, the Police Services Board and the Police Association has created a jaundiced environment, which is also reflected within the Police Service Board itself.
In this age of austerity, the provincial government should step in and revise the Act governing Police and Fire to place a limit on arbitration and reconciliation so that each municipality will be better equipped to forecast costs.
Are we still living in a cave age or are we living in a digital age? The 2013 police budgeting and individual idiosyncrasies have tarnished our police force image. Once it was known to be the best force. I hope 2013 will restore such image.
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