DRESCHEL: Ferguson has forensic centre card up his sleeve

Opinion Jul 06, 2016 by Andrew Dreschel The Hamilton Spectator

Despite the setback of a $9 million price hike and the letdown that senior governments won't contribute to the project, police board chair Lloyd Ferguson figures the city can still build a new police forensic centre without tapping local taxpayers for more money.

"I have a plan that I'm working with the senior command on now … and I think we can bring a recommendation to council that we will proceed with the project at no impact to the tax levy."

The Ancaster councillor was commenting after deputy police chief Ken Weatherill's double bombshell that the estimated cost of the project has swollen to about $24.5 million from $15.6 million and that the province and feds refuse to share the load.

Weatherill attributed the whopping increase to "ancillary costs," which will be detailed in a report to the police board later this month.

Ferguson's go-ahead plan includes using the $8.6 million currently in police capital reserves and drawing on cash which will be freed up after police services pays off its outstanding debt for the construction of the Mountain Station on Rymal Road, which opened in 2004.

Ferguson says when the station's mortgage is retired in 2018, close to a $1 million a year could be reallocated to the proposed downtown investigative services building for examining crime scene evidence.

Additionally, he says other funds may be available if the province lives up to expectations and uplifts more of the cost of policing courts from municipalities.

All in, Ferguson is "confident" a deal can still be worked out that will see the goal — first approved by the police board in 2010 — of modernizing and consolidating currently fragmented forensic services under one roof.

"The problem is — and what keeps me awake at night — is the world of forensics has changed so radically," Ferguson said.

"With the advent of DNA — and you saw during the Bosma trial it's far more sophisticated — you need three labs. One for the victim, one for the scene, one for the accused. Until we get that done, we're at risk.

"Public safety is very important to us and as this technology changes we have to adapt to it. That's the main driver. That's why this is our No. 1 capital project."

Be that as it may, it's an open question whether council will go along now that earlier signals that matching government funds aren't available have proved accurate.

True, the city has already committed $5 million to the project, which was drawn from various police reserve funds and savings.

But Ferguson's new plan may be in for a rough ride given council's negative reaction to the police board bumping that $5 million contribution up to $8.6 million by transferring last year's $3.6 million operating surplus to the project.

On Monday councillors formally asked the board to put that $3.6 million back into a reserve fund for offsetting future tax increases to pay for police services.

Though the motion from Coun. Matthew Green passed 11-3, the vote itself can have no direct impact. Legislatively council can't compel the police board to transfer the money. And, even if the police board wanted to, legislatively it can't reconsider one of its own votes in the same calendar year.

To further complicate matters, the police board also can't spend the money in its capital reserve without council's approval.

That brings us back to Green's motion. If nothing else, it may be sending a strong message about how council feels about moving ahead with the forensic centre.

Green, an outspoken critic of police governance, was taken aback that the police board hadn't informed council sooner about the rising cost or the failure to secure funding from the feds and province,

He says he'll raise the question of council's commitment to the project at a future meeting.

Pointing to a report on modernizing policing by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, Green suggests it's time to explore the cost-cutting possibility of sharing forensic labs services with other police forces.

They may be coming from opposite sides of the issue, but obviously both Ferguson and Green are searching for options and groping their way forward to some kind of a resolution.

Andrew Dreschel’s commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. adreschel@thespec.com 905-526-3495 @AndrewDreschel

DRESCHEL: Ferguson has forensic centre card up his sleeve

Opinion Jul 06, 2016 by Andrew Dreschel The Hamilton Spectator

Despite the setback of a $9 million price hike and the letdown that senior governments won't contribute to the project, police board chair Lloyd Ferguson figures the city can still build a new police forensic centre without tapping local taxpayers for more money.

"I have a plan that I'm working with the senior command on now … and I think we can bring a recommendation to council that we will proceed with the project at no impact to the tax levy."

The Ancaster councillor was commenting after deputy police chief Ken Weatherill's double bombshell that the estimated cost of the project has swollen to about $24.5 million from $15.6 million and that the province and feds refuse to share the load.

Weatherill attributed the whopping increase to "ancillary costs," which will be detailed in a report to the police board later this month.

Ferguson's go-ahead plan includes using the $8.6 million currently in police capital reserves and drawing on cash which will be freed up after police services pays off its outstanding debt for the construction of the Mountain Station on Rymal Road, which opened in 2004.

Ferguson says when the station's mortgage is retired in 2018, close to a $1 million a year could be reallocated to the proposed downtown investigative services building for examining crime scene evidence.

Additionally, he says other funds may be available if the province lives up to expectations and uplifts more of the cost of policing courts from municipalities.

All in, Ferguson is "confident" a deal can still be worked out that will see the goal — first approved by the police board in 2010 — of modernizing and consolidating currently fragmented forensic services under one roof.

"The problem is — and what keeps me awake at night — is the world of forensics has changed so radically," Ferguson said.

"With the advent of DNA — and you saw during the Bosma trial it's far more sophisticated — you need three labs. One for the victim, one for the scene, one for the accused. Until we get that done, we're at risk.

"Public safety is very important to us and as this technology changes we have to adapt to it. That's the main driver. That's why this is our No. 1 capital project."

Be that as it may, it's an open question whether council will go along now that earlier signals that matching government funds aren't available have proved accurate.

True, the city has already committed $5 million to the project, which was drawn from various police reserve funds and savings.

But Ferguson's new plan may be in for a rough ride given council's negative reaction to the police board bumping that $5 million contribution up to $8.6 million by transferring last year's $3.6 million operating surplus to the project.

On Monday councillors formally asked the board to put that $3.6 million back into a reserve fund for offsetting future tax increases to pay for police services.

Though the motion from Coun. Matthew Green passed 11-3, the vote itself can have no direct impact. Legislatively council can't compel the police board to transfer the money. And, even if the police board wanted to, legislatively it can't reconsider one of its own votes in the same calendar year.

To further complicate matters, the police board also can't spend the money in its capital reserve without council's approval.

That brings us back to Green's motion. If nothing else, it may be sending a strong message about how council feels about moving ahead with the forensic centre.

Green, an outspoken critic of police governance, was taken aback that the police board hadn't informed council sooner about the rising cost or the failure to secure funding from the feds and province,

He says he'll raise the question of council's commitment to the project at a future meeting.

Pointing to a report on modernizing policing by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, Green suggests it's time to explore the cost-cutting possibility of sharing forensic labs services with other police forces.

They may be coming from opposite sides of the issue, but obviously both Ferguson and Green are searching for options and groping their way forward to some kind of a resolution.

Andrew Dreschel’s commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. adreschel@thespec.com 905-526-3495 @AndrewDreschel

DRESCHEL: Ferguson has forensic centre card up his sleeve

Opinion Jul 06, 2016 by Andrew Dreschel The Hamilton Spectator

Despite the setback of a $9 million price hike and the letdown that senior governments won't contribute to the project, police board chair Lloyd Ferguson figures the city can still build a new police forensic centre without tapping local taxpayers for more money.

"I have a plan that I'm working with the senior command on now … and I think we can bring a recommendation to council that we will proceed with the project at no impact to the tax levy."

The Ancaster councillor was commenting after deputy police chief Ken Weatherill's double bombshell that the estimated cost of the project has swollen to about $24.5 million from $15.6 million and that the province and feds refuse to share the load.

Weatherill attributed the whopping increase to "ancillary costs," which will be detailed in a report to the police board later this month.

Ferguson's go-ahead plan includes using the $8.6 million currently in police capital reserves and drawing on cash which will be freed up after police services pays off its outstanding debt for the construction of the Mountain Station on Rymal Road, which opened in 2004.

Ferguson says when the station's mortgage is retired in 2018, close to a $1 million a year could be reallocated to the proposed downtown investigative services building for examining crime scene evidence.

Additionally, he says other funds may be available if the province lives up to expectations and uplifts more of the cost of policing courts from municipalities.

All in, Ferguson is "confident" a deal can still be worked out that will see the goal — first approved by the police board in 2010 — of modernizing and consolidating currently fragmented forensic services under one roof.

"The problem is — and what keeps me awake at night — is the world of forensics has changed so radically," Ferguson said.

"With the advent of DNA — and you saw during the Bosma trial it's far more sophisticated — you need three labs. One for the victim, one for the scene, one for the accused. Until we get that done, we're at risk.

"Public safety is very important to us and as this technology changes we have to adapt to it. That's the main driver. That's why this is our No. 1 capital project."

Be that as it may, it's an open question whether council will go along now that earlier signals that matching government funds aren't available have proved accurate.

True, the city has already committed $5 million to the project, which was drawn from various police reserve funds and savings.

But Ferguson's new plan may be in for a rough ride given council's negative reaction to the police board bumping that $5 million contribution up to $8.6 million by transferring last year's $3.6 million operating surplus to the project.

On Monday councillors formally asked the board to put that $3.6 million back into a reserve fund for offsetting future tax increases to pay for police services.

Though the motion from Coun. Matthew Green passed 11-3, the vote itself can have no direct impact. Legislatively council can't compel the police board to transfer the money. And, even if the police board wanted to, legislatively it can't reconsider one of its own votes in the same calendar year.

To further complicate matters, the police board also can't spend the money in its capital reserve without council's approval.

That brings us back to Green's motion. If nothing else, it may be sending a strong message about how council feels about moving ahead with the forensic centre.

Green, an outspoken critic of police governance, was taken aback that the police board hadn't informed council sooner about the rising cost or the failure to secure funding from the feds and province,

He says he'll raise the question of council's commitment to the project at a future meeting.

Pointing to a report on modernizing policing by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, Green suggests it's time to explore the cost-cutting possibility of sharing forensic labs services with other police forces.

They may be coming from opposite sides of the issue, but obviously both Ferguson and Green are searching for options and groping their way forward to some kind of a resolution.

Andrew Dreschel’s commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. adreschel@thespec.com 905-526-3495 @AndrewDreschel