Close might just be good enough for Port Moody councillors who acknowledged efforts by the city’s police department to trim its proposed budget increase for 2021 from 1.19% to 0.78%.
And while that’s still higher than the maximum 0.63% increase the city’s budget guidelines mandate, Coun. Amy Lubik told council’s finance committee during a meeting Feb. 16, “it’s really important we’re all working together to reduce the budget this year, especially with the climate we’re in.”
It was a motion by Lubik after the police department’s initial budget pitch on Jan. 19 that sent it back to its calculators to find further economies that would bring it closer to the guidelines.
David Fox, chair of the Port Moody Police Board, said the $132,000 it was able to trim will result in “no decrease in service levels.” But, he cautioned, “these are really exceptional times with many fiscal challenges.”
Chief Const. David Fleugel said primary among those pressures is wages for the department’s unionized officers and civilian employees that make up about 80% of the force’s $11.68-million budget. He told council’s finance committee that its collective agreements are often influenced by settlements made elsewhere in the region, one of which recently awarded a 2.5% wage increase through arbitration.
Fleugel pointed out the city’s contract with the Port Moody police service union expired at the end of 2018, and keeping pace with neighbouring forces will be especially critical as the new municipal police force in Surrey begins recruiting about 1,000 officers.
“I think they would find our Port Moody police officers very attractive,” Fleugel said of the formative force south of the Fraser River “They’re trained and experienced and we want to make sure we retain all the officers we’ve invested in.”
Fleugel said another growing expense for the department is technology as it takes measures to ensure a cyber attack in 2019 that crippled its computer services isn’t repeated as well as prepare for the eventual implementation of high-tech tools like body cameras.
“There’s a tsunami of IT issues coming to police,” he said.
Fleugel also told councillors while some city departments have been able to save money because of reduced operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, that hasn’t been the case for his force.
“Your police department is doing more on the streets, more checks on restaurants,” he said, adding it’s officers who must respond when residents call in to complain about others not following public health restrictions.
As well, Fleugel surmised, police officers can’t really work remotely from home and “they can’t take a break on training, even in the pandemic.”
Port Moody councillors will continue their deliberation on the 2021 budget in March with the final budget to be adopted by May 15. In January, a draft budget anticipated a property tax increase of 4.5%.