By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton councillors are drawing a line in the budget sand with the Hamilton Police Service asking Chief Glenn De Caire to trim his proposed tax increase this year by 0.19 per cent.
“It raises a question if they live in a bubble or not,” said Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla. “We are not asking for a service reduction. The budget level needs to be maintained.”
Mountain councillor Terry Whitehead, a member of the Police Services Board, said the rising cost of policing is unaffordable for the city.
“I hope the police board understands the budget limitations of this body,” said Whitehead.
Mountain councillor Tom Jackson called council’s motion “prudent” as the city attempts to reign in runaway costs.
“I’m perplexed and puzzled we are in this showdown,” saidJackson. “This has been a merry-go-round. I thought we gave them enough information.”
He said De Caire stated in a presentation to council that his goal is to hire 61 officers in total. In the chief’s 2013 budget, he is asking for 20 new officers, and one civilian employee.
“He will be back for more,” saidJackson.
But politicians were left scratching their heads about what the police were even asking in their budget, or what their final tax number was. Their anger was even heightened when there was no representatives from the Police Service present at the March 21 government issues committee meeting to provide answers to councillors’ questions its budget. Councillors passed a motion requesting a representative of the police service to appear before a special government issues committee meeting tentatively scheduled for April 3. Politicians were considering a motion requesting the Hamilton Police Service reduce its 3.71 per cent tax increase to 3.52 per cent.
The Hamilton Police Service Board approved an initial budget with a 5.25 per cent tax increase, or nearly $140 million. The board whittled it down to about 3.71 per cent, a figure that Whitehead argued only meant the police was deferring a portion of its increase to 2014.
De Caire has said the increase was needed to fund 20 more officers to handle the higher number of calls for fraud and child abuse, and the city’s growing population. The chief has subsequently cut the budget, but only by delaying the hiring of the new officers.
“They are deferring the balance of 5.25 until next year,” said Whitehead.
Stoney Creekcouncillor Brad Clark said the chief hasn’t provided the full financial picture of the service.Clarkwas surprised to learn from city staff the police service will have a $310,000 deficit for 2012. In addition, the city is providing $710,000 in capital funding, which would increase the police budget to 3.9 per cent.
“I still don’t know what the police chief is asking for in 2013,” said Clark. “They have a deficit that the chief hasn’t shared with us. I have a real problem with this.”
Mayor Bob Bratina, broke from his colleagues on the board, and threw his support behind the police chief and his budget.
“The chief’s presentation was adequate,” he said. “(The budget) reflected a rational approach. He feels in his wisdom that is what he needs to fulfill his obligation.”
Councillors, including representatives on the Police Services Board, have questioned the need to hire 20 additional officers.
Politicians are still struggling to get this year’s tax increase down to zero. So far the average tax increase is at 1.9 per cent. But for suburban councillors that isn’t enough. With the addition of area-rating increases that begin at 1.4 per cent suburban homeowners will still see a higher tax hike than those residents within the old city ofHamilton.
“That’s why we are not done,” said Clark.
The city’s budget deliberations have been extended into April to provide councillors with more time to see if they can make their zero per cent target. Rather than the March 27 deadline staff had originally scheduled to complete the 2013 budget, the new deadline is April 10. Deliberations dates have now been scheduled for April 4 and 5.