Victoria and Esquimalt’s unhappy marriage over the cost of policing may be nearing an end after more than 20 years, but it hasn’t made this year’s budgeting process any less frustrating for all sides.
The municipalities, forced to share the costs of policing since 2002 and whose mayors sit as co-chairs on the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board, are again complaining about the budgeting process — though for different reasons.
Some members of Victoria city council have dismissed the process as a farce and charade after it was left to go line-by-line through the proposed police budget to find savings after the board refused to trim its $69.5-million draft budget to ensure its cost increases did not exceed 6.9 per cent.
Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto said Victoria was left with no choice but to try to find savings, which will inevitably lead to an appeal to the province to make a decision.
“And that appeal very often goes in favour of the police board,” Alto said. “It is a charade in the sense that it seems patently unreasonable to expect a municipal council, even though it has a very large and deep reserve of expertise, to be able to bring that expertise in any meaningful way to an assessment of police services.”
Alto said it would make more sense to establish a reasonable threshold for spending and leave the experts at the police board and the police department to determine how best to use the money.
To bring the police budget in line with other city departments, which were instructed to ensure cost increases reflected the cost of living, Victoria has told the board it will not fund several budget items, including seven new personnel, which would cut $1.7 million from the police draft financial plan.
Victoria suggested funding would be provided for only two of the three new front-line officers the department had requested, and recommended some programs and the hiring of some additional personnel be included in future years.
Esquimalt council has also suggested the department could do without funding for the seven personnel along with program cuts in a recommendation that would trim just over $1.3 million from the budget.
Both Victoria and Esquimalt’s budget-trimming suggestions will be considered by the police board’s finance committee before the board responds.
Esquimalt believes it is over-paying for services it doesn’t need and is, to some extent, subsidizing Victoria’s policing.
“There’s a lot of frustration at my council, and certainly at the joint board council meeting we heard the same frustration from the City of Victoria: This is not working,” said Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins.
“We continually go into this situation every year where the board is proposing a budget for two very different communities and there is no satisfaction to be had.”
As in past years, Esquimalt, which pays about 14 per cent of the $69-million Victoria police budget, says the township is being asked to fund personnel and programs that Victoria needs.
“The challenge partly is that councils feel that they have an understanding of what their communities require, but it doesn’t get translated in the budget proposed,” said Desjardins.
“In Esquimalt, we have had study after study that says we actually have more officers than what we require to be allocated and we can’t reduce that number. All we get are budgets that try to increase those numbers. So there there’s no satisfaction in trying to come together with a joint budget with Victoria, which has very different requirements.
“I think we can all agree that both communities are not satisfied with this and really don’t want to be in this marriage.”
Esquimalt wants to pull out of the shared policing agreement with the City of Victoria, which expires at the end of this year. The township has hired a consulting firm to come up with alternatives.
It would need provincial approval to get out of the agreement, as well as plans for a new service model and for the transition.
Desjardins said the council expects to hear from Perivale and Taylor Consulting in May or June.
When asked about the situation in Esquimalt and Victoria as well as the findings of last year’s report on reforming the Police Act, the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General said it has been analysing the recommendations, including those on governance and mayors not being chair of police boards.
“The ministry is taking a phased approach to respond to the recommendations in order to meaningfully engage and consult on development of new legislation and conduct the necessary analysis so that government can make informed decisions,” the ministry said in a statement.
Initial reforms to the Police Act to address police governance and oversight are expected to be tabled in the fall.