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‘Prudent’ budget helps police board turn a new leaf

Ferguson acclaimed as new chair

By Laura Lennie, News Staff

The new chair of the Hamilton police services board says one of his priorities for the coming year is to improve relations with city hall.

Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson said he believes that goal got off to a good start with unanimous votes last week to have him replace the late Bernie Morelli as head of the seven-member board and approve the proposed 2014 police budget.

“There’s been tension between both (the Hamilton Police Service and city council) and I think it started with the budget of greater than five per cent last year and it seemed to carry on through the year,” he said. “I just want to get a collaborative approach going on the board first of all, and then also in a relationship with city council based on some of the experiences we had last year. You got unanimous support for a chair — I don’t think you’ve seen a unanimous vote out of that board for a long time — and you got unanimous support for the budget, so I think we’re off to a good start.”

Ferguson was acclaimed chair of the police services board last Tuesday after the passing of former chair, long-time member and city councillor Morelli, who died on Jan. 14 after battling health issues. He was 70.

Members of the board also unanimously voted to pass along Chief Glenn De Caire’s proposed 2014 police budget to city councillors, who gave the document a favourable reception two days later.

The chief is looking for a 2.98 per cent budget increase, the lowest hike in the last 14 years. About 88 per cent of the $144.6-million budget’s spending involves salaries and benefits, while the rest includes costs for facilities, fleet, computer software and city expenses totaling just under $485,000.

Members of the board twice rejected De Caire’s proposed 2013 police budget, which included the hiring of 20 new officers, before voting 5–2 to recommend his third version to council.

He sought increases of 5.25 and then 4.75 per cent. It eventually came in at 3.52 per cent with five fewer new officers. The 2014 version doesn’t add any staff.

Board member and Mountain councillor Terry Whitehead endorsed the budget at last Tuesday’s board meeting and said he’d be supporting it when it was brought before city council.

“I’m supportive of it because to get to where you need to go, you have to build a solid foundation and process and I think we’re moving clearly in that direction,” he said. “This budget is one of the lowest budgets in years that the community’s seen. Is it too high in many people’s opinion? I would tell you yes, but I know as a board member and understanding the liabilities and risk, this was the prudent budget to support and that’s why I’m supporting it.”

Whitehead said when it comes to 88 per cent of the budget spending going towards salaries and benefits not much can be done.

“That’s very little controlled because of the Arbitration Act, so there needs to be changes to control those kinds of issues,” he said. “We’re going through negotiations this year. There is very little discretionary dollars to deal with within this process and that’s the frustrating part. Until the provinces address the fundamentals of the Arbitration Act, it will continue being a challenge for this community and many communities across this province.”

During their meeting, members of the board also unanimously voted to continue rotating the position of vice-chair on a monthly basis.

In addition, Whitehead tabled two initiatives he’d proposed at previous meetings. He set aside his request for an external auditor, saying there should be an ongoing discussion about the need and he put off a discussion about creating a governance committee to examine the board itself until the next meeting.

The meeting also included moments of silence in honour of Morelli and Hamilton police Staff Sgt. Ian Matthews, who died on Dec. 17 after shooting himself at police headquarters.

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