Back to the drawing board

Herald file photo.

The Prince Albert Police Commission will have to head back to the drawing board after council rejected their proposed budget for the next fiscal year.

The original financial request called for $16,651,690 in spending for the police department, which represented a $543,130 increase from one year ago.

However, city council found the number too high for their liking, and sent it back with a note to trim $200,000 in spending.

Ward 8 Coun. Dennis Nowoselsky, who is one of two city councillors currently sitting on the police commission, was the strongest advocate for rejecting the budget. During the meeting he said he opposed the original request during police commission meetings, and time hadn’t softened his stance.

“I believe (the request) has got to be cut,” he explained. “I say that strongly and I say that publicly. We can’t have that much money going into policing.”

Nowoselsky took specific aim at salaries, which he said are so high they make it difficult to fund other city services.

The department currently spends 87.7 per cent of their $20.7 million in expenses on salaries and benefits. That includes 94 officers, eight bylaw or community safety officers and more than 30 other staff positions.

Instead, Nowoselsky wants to see community programs like the neighbourhood watch help pick up the slack.

“We’ve got to get the community involved and we’ve got to bring some of these budget (costs) down, because this year, we didn’t even have enough dollars for a second street sweeping in the residential areas,” he explained.

Nowoselsky added that he wanted to see more fruits and vegetables in a city budget that had been described earlier by Mayor Greg Dionne as “meat and potatoes.” To fund those projects, he suggested the city take a look at cutting police funding.

“This budget has to come down in the next few years, or we won’t have money to provide water and sewer and street cleaning and the basics,” he said.

Prince Albert Chief of Police Troy Cooper presented the financial request on behalf of the police department. While he agreed that training, outfitting and paying one individual officer can be expensive, he maintained that salaries are out of the department’s control.

Instead, Cooper urged the city to take a look at other ways to keep costs down, like applying for more provincially funded positions.

Throughout his time as chief, Cooper has maintained that policing in Prince Albert is prohibitively expensive. He attributes that to the sheer number of officers required to police the city. According to Statistics Canada, Prince Albert has one of the highest rates of police officers per capita. On average, each Prince Albert police officer answers roughly 680 calls per year.

The police department lost $78,000 in towing and storage revenue earlier this year due to a new City Impound Lot policy approved by city council. The department also lost $76,500 in revenue from SGI, although Cooper expects the department to make up for the shortfall in other areas. Overall, the department expects to increase revenues in the coming year.

Once a new financial request is approved by the police commission it will be sent to city council for approval.

@kerr_jas •