We are now deep into budget discussions for the City’s 2016-2018 Operating Budget and there are still difficult decisions ahead over which initiatives to fund and which ones we can reduce to get closer to a reasonable tax increase. This year – as in the past – police funding draws a significant amount of attention.
On Friday, I made a motion aimed at giving the Edmonton Police Commission (the body that oversees the Edmonton Police Service) predictable funding and reducing their need to come before Council with their caps in hand each year. My suggestion for a formula-based approach is fairly simple: funding increases for the next three years would be directly tied to population growth and municipal inflation (which is driven mainly by wage and energy costs). This removes much of the ‘politics’ from the police budget and gives Chief Knecht the latitude to plan for the long-term. For example, EPS knows that next year, this will net out to approximately a $3 million increase in their funding.
Long-term sustainable funding models are extremely useful for planning and budgeting. That’s why municipalities have long called for this type of stable funding relationship with senior orders of government. I think it’s important that we do as we say, and give the police the certainty they need in order to make long-term recruitment and deployment decisions.
As our largest operating expense, policing cost and prevention strategies are key points of discussion when Edmonton and Calgary talk about inking a new deal with the province through the City Charter. There is no question that the EPS is being asked to assume responsibilities beyond their traditional scope. For example, on any given day police will respond to many complex mental health, addiction and homeless cases – essentially acting as social workers with guns. My new formula-based approach to EPS also comes with a promise to work together in advocating to the Province on re-setting the way ‘big city’ policing is funded in Alberta – and ways we can work with the provincial government to free up our officers from court delays, social disorder brought on by homelessness, crime driven by addictions and underlying mental health problems.
At a minimum, Edmonton and Calgary need the same 10 cents on the dollar that other cities get from the province for policing, to say nothing of the communities below 15,000 that get 30 cents on the dollar for policing covered, or municipalities under 5,000 who get policing cost entirely covered by senior orders of government.
Ideally, with partnerships on prevention and coordinated approaches to organized crime, cyber crime, human trafficking and other crimes that are not localized, we can go further and contribute to reducing provincial justice and incarceration costs as well.