In Dennis Nowoselsky's opinion, Prince Albert police officer wages have “been on the gravy train too long.”
The Ward 7 councillor defended a motion he brought forward Monday night seeking a 10 per cent cut to the city’s police budget in 2019, and a further five per cent slash in 2020. For some time, Nowoselsky has taken issue with a rising municipal law enforcement budget, which makes up around 36 per cent of the city’s overall budget, with a price tag north of $20 million.
“That budget has grown way too large…. It can’t keep going. Police salaries have gone so outlandish we have got to do something this year,” he said while pleading for support with his fellow lawmakers. “If we can’t do nothing about it colleagues, we are in dire straights. We have got to have some resources to lower taxes in this city for our citizens and it has got to start here.”
Further defending his proposal, Nowoselsky pointed to Brandon, Manitoba, a city with approximately 15,000 more people, but a police budget $5 million lower. He decried the fact that Prince Albert has 92 officers, a number he believes to be too high, more so for the fact the average take-home pay for a senior officer was around $120,000. He said the issue is draining municipal coffers across the country, noting discussions at national conferences and from residents in his ward, who he said have expressed discontent with the high costs as well.
While Mayor Greg Dionne agreed the issue is one felt across the country, he said the solution is not to cut and burn.
“About 88.5 per cent of our [police] budget is labour. If this passes, he is telling us to lay off 13 officers. I don’t think that is what our public wants,” Dionne said. “I hear different things … and people panic at that news. Most people want more protection.”
Dionne maintained finding efficiencies was more appropriate, citing the recent movement of animal control operations from bylaw officers to the SPCA as an example.
While there was little support around the table for the cuts, sympathy was found in honing in on efficiencies.
Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards described the prospect of laying off 13 officers as “frightening,” and said most residents point to crime as the number-one issue they want addressed.
“My residents want more eyes on the street. They don’t want to see reduced services,” he said, adding he received an email last week from someone willing to pay more tax if would go toward law enforcement.
“Can we find efficiencies? Yes. But (cut) $2 million? That is frightening,” he said.
Ward 1 Coun. Charlene Miller likewise said her constituents want extra patrols but pointed to the lack of control over where cuts are made within PAPS as part of the difficulty in finding efficiencies.
“This body can only reduce the police budget through money. We can’t know what they do or how they do it,” she said. “We don’t know where they are doing their cutbacks and that is quite scary.”
Believing there are more creative ways to lessen the burden on the taxpayer, Ward 3 Coun. Evert Botha said the discussion was one the city needs to have.
“I don’t agree with the 10 or five per cent, but I would like to … see if we could optimize some spending,” he said.
Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp made note many of the higher salaries were not base pay, but bloated as a result of overtime being asked of officers. She also wanted to ensure specific outcomes were being achieved over just a reduction in costs.
Though he did not support the cuts, Don Cody sympathized with the idea. The Ward 4 councilor acknowledged wages are getting high but said it was not just inside the police department. He said two main issues stood in the way: a stifling provincial economy and cutbacks in revenue from the province.
“We are the first order of government here. We serve the people on the ground and they have to help us out a bit better,” Cody said.
In a recorded vote, Nowoselsky’s motion was defeated 5-3, only gaining support from himself, Botha, and Miller. Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick was absent from the meeting.
On Twitter: @JournoMarr
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