No regrets for coucillor who skipped November budget meetings

Ward 7 Coun. Dennis Nowoselsky speaks during an executive committee meeting in August 2018. -- Herald file photo.

Ward 7 Coun. Dennis Nowoselsky has no regrets about not attending budget meetings in November, then voting against the final budget when it came before council on Dec. 10 and again on Jan. 7.

Nowoselsky was in Prince Albert for pre-budget in-camera sessions, but decided to go to Europe instead of attending regular budget committee meetings on Nov. 7-8. That decision drew strong criticism from some of his fellow council members, who said he wasn’t doing the job taxpayers elected him to do. However, Nowoselsky said budget debates are meaningless unless the city gets its spending under control.

“There’s nothing to respond to,” he said when asked the criticism he received for not attending the November budget meetings. “I said cut the outlandish, ridiculous $21-million police budget and we’d save the taxpayers millions and taxes would go down. Some day somebody’s going to wake up and realize it’s way out of line in P.A.”

Nowoselsky was the only councillor who didn’t show up for the two-day meetings in November. However, he was present on Dec. 10, when the official vote to pass the budget ended in a 4-4 tie, and was therefore defeated.

Mayor Greg Dionne criticized that move in an interview following the Dec. 10 vote.

“We were expecting him to be there and he wasn’t. That is frustrating, when you don’t participate and then you vote against it,” Dionne said told reporters afterwards. “At least participate. Then we can understand where you are coming from.”

On Thursday, Nowoselsky responded and said there was no point to showing up to debate small budget items because the city needed to cut millions. He said he tried to get support for a motion to reduce spending on the Prince Albert Police Service in previous meetings, but didn’t get enough votes.

He then hinted that he might run for mayor if that’s what it takes to get his way.

“Nobody wants to live (in Prince Albert) because taxes are too high,” he said. “Bring those budgets back in line. They’ve got 22 sergeants out of 94 members on the force. That’s ridiculous. I finally called it and two councillors agreed with me. If we’d had two more onside we’d have turned things around in that city. Maybe when I run for mayor in two years we’re going to get it corrected.”

Nowoselsky added that he feels Prince Albert has too many police officers for the size of its population, and argued that the average police salary was too high.

Property taxes have increased by 5.9 per cent over the last four years, one of the lowest rates in the province. Other cities have increased by 16 per cent (North Battleford), 17.9 per cent (Saskatoon), 18.6 per cent (Regina) and 19 per cent (Moose Jaw) during the same period.

Nowoselsky also took umbrage with comments made by Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski during Monday’s special council meeting. During the final budget debate, Zurakowski said he had no idea why Nowoselsky was voting against the budget since he wasn’t present in November. Nowoselsky called that a cheap shot, and said Zurakowski should have supported cuts to the police budget.

“Why do you chip around over $10,000 when we’re talking $3-4 million, minimum, over (budget),” Nowoselsky said.

The cost of policing in Prince Albert

According to pre-budget documents, the Prince Albert Police Service (PAPS) accounted for $21,362,950 in total expenses, however revenue such as user charges, fees, operating grants and donations cover roughly $4.6 million of that amount. That left the city on the hook for $16,687,780 in 2019, which represented a 1.4 per cent increase over 2018.

However, during the November budget deliberations, the eight council members present voted to send the police budget back to the Board of Police Commissioners to trim a further $200,000 in expenses.

Salaries, wages and benefits make up roughly $18.8 million in PAPS expenses. The service includes 74 sworn officers paid by the city and another 20 paid by the provincial government. An additional three positions are funded by SGI. The service also has more than 30 permanent civilian staff members and six bylaw positions.

The number of city-funded sworn officers hasn’t changed since 2016, however the number of provincially funded positions has risen from seven in 2007 to the current 23 in 2019.

In Prince Albert, there are 2.4 officers per 1,000 people. That’s higher than Regina (1.8) and Saskatoon (1.7), but well back of North Battleford who have 4.2 officers for every 1,000 residents, the highest rate in Saskatchewan. Prince Albert and North Battleford also have the highest crime severity indexes in the province. Prince Albert’s index of 251.46 is more than three times the national average.

According to the city’s most recent public accounts data from 2017, former Police Chief Troy Cooper was the highest paid city employee, making roughly $255,000 annually. The third, fifth and sixth and 10th highest paid employees were also police officers.

However, during his time in Prince Albert, Cooper often stressed that policing the city was prohibitively expensive because of its regional nature. Non-residents made up roughly one-third of all arrests in 2016 and were also frequent victims of crime.

“It’s not the cost per officer that makes policing expensive in P.A.,” Cooper told council in 2017. “It’s the number of officers required that makes it expensive.”