Vancouver council will be asked by city staff next week to reinstate $5.7 million to the police budget that a majority of council originally rejected during the city’s budget deliberations in December 2020.
The recommendation from staff follows a decision made in March by Wayne Rideout, B.C.’s director of police services, who ruled the $5.7 million requested as part of the police’s operating budget for 2021 shouldn’t have been rejected by council.
Under the Police Act, council is required to provide funds to the Vancouver Police Board — which sets and oversees the police budget — in accordance with Rideout’s ruling. Rideout became involved in the budget controversy after the police board appealed council’s December 2020 decision.
The staff report leaves open the option for council to increase property taxes this year or in 2023 instead of transferring funds from the city’s reserves to the police budget, which already totals $341.5 million for this year.
“Because the final 2022 property tax rates have not yet been finalized, council also has the option to amend the 2022 operating budget and fund the expenditure by increasing the property tax levy,” said the report, noting a tax increase would be about 0.6 per cent.
“Funding the 2022 cost of the VPD budget increase from an increased property tax levy in 2022 would provide an ongoing funding source in 2022, and would not require an ongoing funding source to be identified as part of the 2023 budget process.”
In his decision, Rideout agreed with the findings of two consultants who concurred with the police board’s position that the $5.7 million is not simply a one-time budgetary shortfall.
If the sum was not added back, it would put the VPD budget at risk of deficit in every year going forward, according to the report authored by Peter Lockie and Peter Lepine and obtained by Vancouver Is Awesome.
Meanwhile, Coun. Jean Swanson has drafted a motion that calls for council not to reinstate the $5.7 million. Swanson was among the majority that rejected the $5.7 million in December 2020.
Swanson wants Mayor Kennedy Stewart to write a letter to Mike Farnworth, B.C.’s solicitor general, to seek clarification about whether municipalities have “any role in overseeing police budgets that they pay for, or whether they are simply a rubber stamp, and if they are not a rubber stamp, how municipalities can have input into police budgets.”
Rideout said in a March 14 letter to Stewart, who doubles as chairperson of the police board, and Faye Wightman, vice-chairperson of the board, that his ruling shouldn’t be interpreted as a municipal council not being able to reject a police budget item or amount.
“Nor am I suggesting that a police department is free to implement any service delivery or deployment model at any cost,” Rideout said.
“On the contrary, the board and Chief Constable must continually examine and evaluate the service levels, deployment model, programs, services, and staffing needs and explore opportunities to reduce costs and leverage operational efficiencies in a manner that reflects the community’s public safety needs and priorities.”
Added Rideout: “They should also work with the municipality to ensure its service is financially sustainable. This appears to generally have been the case in Vancouver.”
Council has meetings scheduled for April 12 and 13, both of which begin at 9:30 a.m.