By Richard Leitner, News Staff
The third go-around is proving to be the charm for Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire’s proposed 2013 budget – at least before it reaches city hall.
Having rejected two previous incarnations, members of the police services board voted 5-2 on Monday to recommend the chief’s third version, a $140.9-million budget that increases spending by $5.3 million, or 3.9 per cent.
That’s down from two previous proposed budgets that sought increases of 5.25 and then 4.75 per cent, a cut achieved by a mix of deferred spending and revenue increases.
It wasn’t enough for two of city council’s three members on the board, both of whom blasted the budget for being out of touch with the economic times and taxpayers’ ability to pay.
West Mountain Councillor Terry Whitehead said police budgets have doubled since 2000 and are growing at a faster pace than those of other city departments.
He blamed the trend on a view that taxpayers are a bottomless source of money and an arbitration system that awards police wage increases that are well above those in the private sector.
The latter comment led police board chair Nancy DiGregorio to interject, “the budget has nothing to do with salaries and benefits and collective agreements.”
“Madam chair, it has to be part of the discussion of what makes up the overall budget,” Whitehead responded. “Hospitals are being capped, teachers are being capped, doctors are being capped, everyone but police,” he said.
“We’re scraping to provide social services to people in poverty. When people are paying rent, don’t kid yourself, they’re paying that police component on the rent, so everyone is affected.”
Ward 3 Councillor Morelli said the budget still won’t “fly’ at city hall and objected to the plan to hire 20 more cops, even if staged to reduce the impact this year.
Ten are now set to be hired in May and 10 in September. An additional civilian is also included in the 2013 budget, which will add 0.64 per cent to next year’s budget.
“Everybody today is looking at reductions in staff,” Morelli said, suggesting at least 10 of the new cops be delayed until next year. “I don’t know why we should be any different.”
But Mayor Bob Bratina, who supported the budget, said a survey by his predecessor found policing is a top priority for the public and disputed that increased spending hurts the poor.
“As a councillor, I recall one city housing address – one address – had a thousand calls to that address in one year,” he said.
“The point is, it’s the most vulnerable who will be put at the greatest risk if we’re not providing adequate policing. If a senior is struggling in their home, we understand that, but the worst thing for seniors, especially single, vulnerable seniors, is somebody crashing through their door or finding someone in their house.”
De Caire reiterated past arguments in favour of hiring more officers, including bigger time demands to respond to calls, increases in child-abuse and fraud crimes, and population growth, particularly in Glanbrook.
“Although we’ve looked at it, we don’t believe that there’s a possibility of pushing these (hires) out any further than we have,” he said.
“At the end of the day, this side of the table has to follow the law, which is to provide adequate and effective delivery of service to the community.”
The budget will now go to city council. De Caire said if it’s rejected, it must go back to the police board for another review before it can go to arbitration before the Ontario Civilian Police Commission.
Monday’s meeting also saw DiGregorio acclaimed to a new term as chair, although she said she will step down at the end of June. She has served as chair for two years.
“I don’t believe in lifetime chairmanships,” the former Catholic board superintendent said.
The board voted to rotate the vice-chair’s position after incumbent Jim Kay, a former city fire chief, declined to stand again.
Whitehead asked to be recorded as opposed to DiGregorio’s re-election. He said afterwards he objected to her handling of the budget process, including a statement that she saw her role as being to support the chief.