Victoria Police Department, city council stuck in budget stalemate

After more than two hours of discussion on Thursday, Victoria councillors were unable to agree on a police budget.

Police Chief Del Manak warned that he would have to cut nine civilian positions if council insists that his department pay the $690,000 tab for the province’s new employer health tax.

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“It’s very, very significant,” he said of the potential job losses. “It really goes against everything which we are trying to do.”

Manak said the department has been trying to “civilianize” where it can in order to support front-line policing.

“You look at it like a link in the chain that really cannot be broken when we look at the role of our civilian staff in our organization,” he said.

If the city, rather than the police department, were to cover the employer health tax, the department would still be facing a $168,000 cut to its core budget, Manak said, but he could avoid job losses by trimming costs such as DNA analysis, telephones, maintenance and training.

“I know that excluding the employer’s health tax will result in no cuts to staff,” he said.

The situation is further complicated by a recent decision from the B.C.’s director of police services ordering Victoria and Esquimalt to hire an additional six officers that Manak was prevented from hiring last year.

The police board has interpreted that as meaning the number of officers must increase from 243 to at least 249 and remain at that level.

“The impact of the options being examined by council is, therefore, focused on reductions in civilian and non-salary budget items, as reductions in police strength would run counter to the direction provided from the province,” Manak stated in a document laying out the budget options.

But some councillors were unconvinced.

Coun Ben. Isitt proposed a number of strategies to deal with both the impact of the employer health tax and the directive to hire six additional officers.

Councillors deferred consideration of the proposals until next week, as some expressed worries they were overstepping their bounds.

“This continues to be extremely frustrating for me,” said Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe.

“I think what we’re doing is micro-managing the police department. They’re being told how to do their business and what’s the best way to do their business and I don’t think necessarily it’s our job to get to this detail of micro-managing.”

Isitt’s suggestions included possible consolidation of some management positions; deferral of some vehicle replacement; and a variance from the framework agreement between Victoria and Esquimalt to allow a one-time allocation of police department surplus funds.

Councillors also asked for legal advice regarding modification of the framework agreement and legal advice on the order to hire the additional six officers.

Manak said the provincial directive ordering the six new officers be hired was “a bit of a game-changer” because it set the minimum requirement for police officers.

“The [police] board’s motion is that the government has indicated that the police officer resources will not go below 249,” he said. “Given that the majority of our budget is salaries to police officers, those areas were not an option to review or to recommend for reduction.”

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

lkines@timescolonist.com

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