The City of Sarnia will no longer benefit from a long-standing practice that saw the police department return budgetary surpluses in good years.
Over the past decade, Sarnia Police Services has returned $1.7 million to city coffers when police didn’t spend as much as expected.
It’s been a point of pride, with Mayor Mike Bradley praising Chief Phil Nelson for good fiscal management when the chief recently announced his June 1 retirement.
“The positive budgetary performance of the Sarnia Police Service has been noted across the province…” Mayor Bradley noted.
But the police board recently approved a plan to direct any year-end surpluses to a Sarnia Police reserve account.
Last year, $240,000 was returned to the city, and this year police are on track to possibly return about $100,000.
Healthier reserves will mean police can cover more of their own expenses and keep budget requests lower, said Chief Nelson.
“We were told by city finance staff to increase our reserves for less dependency on the
city,” he said. “That’s really the purpose of (the change).”
The chief said he prefers not to call the money left over at year-end a surplus.
“It’s savings. And the majority of it is because officers are on long-term disability and not collecting salaries,” he said. This year, 14 officers have been off work on disability.
Further savings are found when there are a lot of retirements, the chief added.
“We had seven retirees in 2017, a very high number,” he said. “And we replaced six of seven of them with cadets.”
At last week’s Sarnia Police Services meeting the board unanimously approved in principal a 2018 operating budget of $23.2 million. That represents an increase of $686,642 or 3.05% over 2017. Staffing levels will not change.
Staff will continue to review the budget and look for potential savings, Chief Nelson said. Meanwhile, final figures on the new group benefits package have not arrived but are generally lower and could result in savings.
The chief agreed with Mayor Bradley that it’s possible the final operating budget request to city council will be under 3%.
The draft budget started out in September with a 3.99% increase, the chief pointed out.
Board member Bryan Trothen asked about several substantial increases, particularly a 35% spending hike for education and training. Most training is provincially mandated and its escalating prices cannot be avoided, Chief Nelson said.
Coun. Dave Boushy proposed $25,000 cut be shaved from various departments. Mayor Bradley seconded Boushy’s motion but it didn’t pass.
Chief Nelson will present the final police budget request during city council’s deliberations on Dec. 5.