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Mar 28.2013 Tri City News

Port Moody grapples with police budget


A heated debate on whether to reverse a Port Moody council decision requiring further police department budget cuts will continue at a future meeting.

On Tuesday, Mayor Mike Clay used his authority under the Community Charter to have council reconsider the decision made at a March 12 in camera (closed door) meeting that the Port Moody Police Department (PMPD) reduce its budget by $200,000.

Clay wanted the reduction changed to $103,000, the amount the police board has already been able to shave off the department's 2013 budget. Requiring any further reductions would mean eliminating a new recruit position, a move the PMPD says would risk service levels.

And while few on council are willing to see the PMPD take "boots off the ground," several took issue with the prospect of overturning an earlier decision on the matter, and took aim at the mayor for the "11th hour" move.

Coun. Gerry Nuttall suggested that, had the police board attended a council meeting to discuss the issue according to the city's corporate policy manual, council could have had its questions addressed in a face-to-face meeting rather than going through the mayor.

"Any questions asked of the board have been answered repeatedly," said Clay, who chairs the police board. "The answer has been given that a reduction in the police budget means a reduction in staffing."

"Being able to sit face-to-face with the board and ask questions is far different than receiving a report from the chair of the police board," Nuttall responded.

Coun. Rick Glumac said he was most concerned about the issue of reconsidering an earlier council vote, particularly when one member, Coun. Rosemary Small, was absent. But Coun. Diana Dilworth countered that there have been "many motions that have gone back and forth and have changed... based on who was sitting around the table."

"This is about you obeying the will of council," Glumac said to Clay. "Regardless of anything that's in the report, I don't support going against the will of council."

The mayor reminded council that the original motion to reduce the budget by $245,000 discussed and defeated at an open council meeting earlier this year did not have all members present either.

But Coun. Bob Elliott echoed Glumac's concern, saying the mayor was "disregarding the vote of a council majority" by bringing the matter back, although he said he was unwilling to sacrifice police service levels by requiring a $200,000 cut.

"This is what I would consider your third attempt to raise taxes for Port Moody residents," fired Coun. Zoe Royer. "We're looking at a potential 5.84% increase that would mean an 11.2% increase in the course of two years, which I think is absurd."

Royer said she wouldn't support Clay's on-table report, which she called "11th hour," and remained in favour of cutting the original amount.

"We're not suggesting where they cut it... that we decrease the level of policing in this community," she said. "There are all kinds of other creative ways they can look for cuts but their budget goes up and up... and that's just not affordable."

The police board first presented its five-year financial plan in October with a request for a $9.4-million operating budget for 2013, about $650,000 more than 2012, or a nearly 7.5% increase.

Earlier this month, council asked the board to reduce its budget increase by $200,000. Since then, the board has managed to whittle away $103,000 by:

scrapping an executive mentorship program ($51,000);

reducing the cost of a personnel survey from $24,000 to $9,000 ($15,000);

eliminating repairs to police building drainage (the $17,000 cost will go on the city's books, not PMPD's);

reducing the cost of recruiting a new chief constable from $25,000 to $15,000 ($10,000 savings, possibly more when vacancy savings are factored in);

and eliminating the proposed purchase of Stromer electric bicycles ($10,300 savings).

In 2011, the police budget went up by just over 4%, to about $8.4 million, followed by a jump to about $8.7 million in 2012.

The cost of protective services (police and fire) has gone from about 35% of the city's overall costs in 2003 to taking up 54% of taxpayer dollars in 2011.

PMPD's acting chief constable, Chris Rattenbury, said this year's budget was stripped down and rebuilt from the ground up, with every single item examined line by line.

"There's nowhere else to reduce," he said. "We will continue... to look for efficiencies, but right now we may have to look at reducing labour."

Council voted to defer the discussion to next week's committee of the whole meeting.

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