The Greater Sudbury police board approved a 5.66-per-cent 2023 budget hike this morning after paring down the 6.7-per-cent budget increase police recommended.
Although the board managed to reduce the proposed budget by approximately $690,000, they retained the direction to hire 24 additional sworn members within three years.
“We need to be able to have that presence out on the street,” chairperson (and Ward 8 Coun.) Al Sizer told Sudbury.com after this morning’s board meeting.
“This will allow us to do more proactive policing instead of reactive policing, where we will have the staff available to do perhaps downtown patrols or be out in the neighbourhoods.”
Police Chief Paul Pedersen tabled a proposed budget during last week’s police board meeting. Its key highlight was an argument for adding 24 new sworn members to their ranks within three years, including 10 to come on board this year.
Pedersen reiterated the professed need for additional members during today’s meeting, noting that there are only 0.08 officers per square kilometre in Greater Sudbury, making it the second-lowest officer density in the province behind Timmins’ 0.03.
“That really has an impact on officer safety,” he said, adding the community has been “asking for more police presence, asking for a focus on drugs and traffic and violent crimes.”
Of the 24 new members, 18 would be on patrol, four would create a new homicide unit and two would be added to the drug enforcement unit.
During today’s meeting, Pedersen clarified that adding 24 new officers to their ranks is a “need” for “today,” and that bringing new members on board takes approximately 16 months from the board’s decision point, including officer training time.
As the board considered options to reduce the proposed budget increase from 6.7 per cent closer to the 3.7-per-cent limit city council asked of them, Pedersen was quick to point out the reductions are not “recommendations,” but are instead options to pare down the budget. He made it clear his recommendation would require the full 6.7-per-cent increase.
During today’s meeting, board members considered a number of potential reductions. Alongside Sizer, the board includes Mayor Paul Lefebvre, Frances Caldarelli, Lise Poratto-Mason and Richard Bois. The board unanimously settled on the following changes to the proposed budget:
- Scrap a $500,000 increase in annual reserve contributions toward new police headquarters. Although this year’s increase was cancelled, they will still invest $2.15 million toward a reserve fund for a future build.
- A broad-sweeping “operating reduction” of $100,000, which the police service will be mandated with achieving.
- Defer the hiring of an internal communications co-ordinator at a cost-cut of $43,173 from this year’s budget. This position was intended to address an identified weakness when it comes to internal communications.
- Defer the hiring of an equity diversity and inclusion strategist at a cost-cut of approximately $47,000 from this year’s budget.
The Citizens on Patrol program was also greenlit to return on a limited basis this year, at a budgeted expense of $54,642.
The approved budget also allows for the hiring of two special constables to work the GSPS front desk, which will free up two officers to work the front line on patrol.
Various options to draw funds from reserves and reduce staffing levels from what has been proposed were all rejected by the board.
With the police board having unanimously approved a 2023 budget of $72.7 million, it will next be presented by Pedersen to the city council’s finance and administration committee on Jan. 17.
The city’s elected officials can recommend a yea or nay regarding the police budget’s new total of $72.7 million, but have limited power in altering it. In the event both sides stick to their guns, the budget will be sent to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission for a final decision.
During today’s police board meeting, Lefebvre said “there’s a bit of a disconnect” between police and city council, in that the 3.7-per-cent budget increase limit imposed by city council wouldn’t even bring police in line with covering staffing expenses via collective bargaining agreements.
In response to the proposed police budget last week, Black Lives Matter Sudbury came out to “firmly denounce” the boost in funding, arguing the money would be better placed with “community-led programs and services such as long-term housing for homeless communities, food security programs, public health services and community-led anti-violence programs.”
Pedersen has agreed with the sentiment that police are less equipped to deal with mental health calls than medical professionals are. Although police have undertaken some efforts to divert calls away themselves and toward mental health professionals, including a partnership with Health Sciences North’s Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team, they haven’t announced anything new in conjunction with adding 24 sworn members to their ranks.
Following today’s meeting, Sizer told Sudbury.com the board is working toward “civilianizing” as many areas of operation as they can.
The Black Lives Matter Sudbury board of directors sent a letter to city council earlier this week demanding they pause the police budget decision-making process.
They said the city needs to hold “a community town hall in which community members most affected by policing can have their voices heard, and have a stake in the decision-making process when it comes to the GSPS budget proposals.”
At the Jan. 17 finance and administration committee meeting, the police budget is on the agenda next to the proposed budgets for the Greater Sudbury Public Library and the Public Health Sudbury and Districts.
On Nov. 10, 2022, Public Health Sudbury and Districts approved a 2023 cost-shared operating budget of $28.5 million, which includes a municipal increase of $340,428 (3.7 per cent). The City of Greater Sudbury’s share of this municipal jump is $247,793 (3.1 per cent increase).
On Jan. 17, the city’s elected officials will also receive an update from city administration on their proposed 2023 budget and a report on 2023 budget community engagement.
The public component of the Jan. 17 finance and administration committee meeting will begin at 4 p.m. and can be viewed in-person at Tom Davies Square or virtually by clicking here.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.