By Kevin Werner, News Staff
A year ago Hamilton councillors and Police Chief Glenn De Caire were in a five-month budget tug of war prompting angry outbursts and rebuttals from each other that left lingering feelings and a divisive relationship.
Today, councillors for the most part heaped praise on De Caire, and the Hamilton Police Board, which only a few days ago approved a 2.98 per cent budget increase, the lowest hike in the last 14 years. Members of the general issues committee Jan 23 received the police services budget after an hour of discussion.
Last year, the police presented a 3.71 per cent budget increase, even though the city had requested a zero per cent increase from boards and agencies. Over the next few months politicians and police officials butted heads over how to cut the budget, especially the 20 new officers the chief wanted. Eventually, the chief submitted a 3.52 per cent budget hike that included 15 new officers, and one new civilian employee.
“We heard from the public, they do not want a cut in services, (but) to find efficiencies,” said De Caire, who presented his fifth budget of his term.
While De Caire, who is leaving the city’s service at the end of the year, continued to say the service needs about 80 more officials and civilian staff, plus more money to combat emerging technological crimes, he said the current budget will still address the current policing needs of the community.
About 80 per cent of the police budget’s spending - $144.59 million - involves higher salaries and benefits, while the rest included higher costs for fleet, facilities, computer software, and city expenses totaling just about $485,000, an increase of about 0.35 per cent.
De Caire said despite the successes the police are having,Hamilton’s crime statistics remain higher than the provincial average, even though most violent crime is trending down. De Caire made it clear the budget doesn’t include any new hires.
He said there have been “very significant” reductions in assaults, and robberies in the central mountain, east end of the city andStoney Creek.
“There was a big sigh of relief when the budget came in at 2.98 per cent,” said Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson, who was voted chair of the Police Services Board Jan. 21. There had been an expectation the police budget would be in the 3.5 per cent range, saidFerguson.
“This is a very refreshing change from where we were last year,” said Mountain councillor Tom Jackson.
Jacksonalso referenced former councillor and Police Board chair Bernie Morelli, saying he had a lot to do with getting the budget to such a level.
“I truly believe Bernie’s mark is on this,” saidJackson. “He would be very, very proud.”
Mountain councillor Terry Whitehead, who is also a police board member, said the police have done everything in their power to make the financial numbers work.
“I’m quite satisfied there is no fat on this bone,” said Whitehead. “This is not the time to lay off officers.”
Some councillors did point out there isn’t enough of a police presence in their areas.
Flamborough councillor Judi Partridge and Glanbrook councillor Brenda Johnson said speeding remains a continuing issue in their representative rural areas.
“It’s out of control,” said Partridge. “It’s ridiculous.”
Partridge said residents are also concerned there doesn’t seem to be the visible police presence in their community. Although it has always been an irritant to Flamborough homeowners, Partridge said “it’s starting to get a little bit louder.”
Mountain councillor Scott Duvall said the idea that crime is declining will surprise a number of people and business owners along Concession Street.
“They don’t have enough police presence,” said Duvall. “I think we are going to have some push back.”
De Caire, though, stood behind the crime statistics his police team has produced.
He said it’s a matter of perception, and finances as to how the police have distribute its officers.
All the councillors, though, praised Chief De Caire for how the police service oversaw Morelli’s funeral Jan. 20. The police had an honour guard to escort the coffin, and the mounted police unit stood outside St. Patrick Catholic Church in memory of the veteran politician.
“It was something to come out of the church to see the mounted unit,” said Partridge