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NWPD seeks a 6.51% budget increase – a drop from its earlier request

The New Westminster Police Department is proposing a $27,850,000 budget in 2023 – down from the $29.6-million budget presented in November
The New Westminster Police Department is looking for a 6.51% increase in its 2023 budget.

The New Westminster Police Department is seeking a 6.51 per cent increase to its 2023 budget – a decrease from what it had previously proposed.

At a joint meeting between city council and the New Westminster police board in November, the police department outlined its 2023 request for $29.26 million, which was a $3.1-million increase from its from its $26.1 million budget in 2022. That proposal included funds for negotiated salary increases for police officers and civilian staff ($1.25 million), downloaded costs from E-Comm and the Justice Institute of B.C., a reduction in traffic fine revenue from the province, and a new spending of about $960,000, including $655,000 related to “backfilling” of positions when employees are on leave.

On Jan. 30, New Westminster city council held a workshop on the 2023 budget – and questioned the changes that had been made to the New Westminster Police Department’s budget.

The NWPD is now proposing a $27,850,600 budget, which is an increase of $1.7 million from last year – or 6.51 per cent.

“There's a significant difference here from what was initially presented to council at the joint meeting with the police board,” said Coun. Jaimie McEvoy. “So what's the difference? What happened in between?”

Chief Const. Dave Jansen said he’s been working with the city’s finance director Harji Varn and chief administrative officer Lisa Spitale to find ways to address the backfill strategy, specifically ways of filling positions when staff are off on maternity or paternity leave.

“We recognize that the budgetary goals of the city, everyone was going to have to do some cuts and make some alterations, and I heard that very clearly,” he said. “And so we're going to work on other areas that related to the original request with city finance, just to look at different areas that we might be able to defer. Now that we're already a couple months into the year, the cost may not be as much.”

When asked how many additional “boots on the ground” the city would see as a result of the budget increase, Jansen said the budget wouldn’t result in the hiring of additional officers to the NWPD’s current staffing levels.

“This is just backfilling. No new resources,” he said. “This just allows us to continue what we're doing so I don't have to cut service.”

A Jan. 30 memo about 2023 service enhancements stated that NWPD salaries and benefits are expected to have a net increase of $1,701,500.  It noted that these increases include an adjustment due to prior year contracts finalizing higher than budgeted, salary increase expectations of three per cent for 2023, and changes to benefit programs, including parental leave and extended health.

Jansen noted the budget does include funds to hire civilian staff to do some of the non-emergency calls that have been done by E-Comm. (In response to concerns about delays in answering non-emergency calls, the New Westminster Police Department announced in July 2022 that it would be working in partnership with E-Comm to transition some non-emergency call answering to the New Westminster Police Department.)

A budget memo to council stated that the police department is facing increasing financial pressures due to cost downloads from other agencies. These cost downloads are budgeted at $901,000 in 2023.

“Increases to support E-Comm and the non-emergency phones lines will be $365,000,” said the memo. “The JIBC has begun invoicing police departments over $22,000 per recruit for training. Contract services for our integrated teams are expected to increase by $213,000. Lastly, during 2022, there was a significant reduction in our traffic fine revenue and we are forecasting for this reduction to continue into 2023, and therefore reduced our revenue by $125,000.”

Varn noted that the fire department is also impacted by increased costs related to E-Comm.

Coun. Nadine Nakagawa expressed concern about the way city councils are expected to deal with budgets from municipal police departments. She said police boards put forward budgets to city council, and council members don’t have a lot of say in what that final budget number is.

“And this is not a criticism of anyone on the police board and the police service or our financial department, but simply that this process is not feasible,” she said. “I think, as a city councillor, that we need more transparency, because we are accountable for these numbers. And I will continue to say this, that I just do not think that this process works. I think that it needs to be fixed.”

Nakagawa said the province needs to take action to address the budget process between municipalities and police boards, and it needs to make changes soon.

“It is not accountable that organizations, external organizations, no matter how wonderful they are, no matter the importance of the work that they do, can simply pass along numbers to cities through the police department, and that we are required to pick them up without any say in them,” she said. “This is not an accountable process. This is not a transparent process. We need more accountability about police budgets, which are the biggest part of our municipal budgets.”

McEvoy said he’d like further information about what E-Comm expects to achieve with the increases it’s receiving from B.C. communities.

“And I'll be frank, are they asking enough? Because E-Comm has had significant challenges in the last couple of years. We need a functional E-Comm,” he said. “When they presented to council, they seemed to almost be afraid to ask cities for more money. But the level of service has to be there, right? And, you know, more cities are taking on the non-emergency because it's non-functional. They're running on overtime, paying people overtime to run the organization. So I don't know what E-Comm is going to get out of these funds that they are actually for. And if they're actually asking for enough, what's going to improve?”

More work to be done

Contacted after the meeting, Jansen told the Record the details of the changes will be discussed at the next police board meeting.

Jansen said the BC Police Act requires that, on or before Nov. 30, the police board must prepare and submit to council for its approval a provisional budget for the following year to provide policing and law enforcement services for the city. He noted that a provisional budget was discussed with city council in November 2022 and approved by the police board the following week.

“Since that time, the department has been working with our colleagues at the city and, subject to further board approval, have refined the provisional budget, balancing a commitment to fiscal responsibility while also acknowledging the need for effective and adequate provision of policing services to the community,” he said in a statement to the Record.

Jansen said the police department will continue to work internally and with the city’s finance department to monitor this decision and is hopeful it will be able to find some internal efficiencies to assist with the shortfalls it anticipates.

According to Jansen, any changes to the provisional budget must be submitted to council on or before March 1 of the year to which the provisional budget relates.

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus

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