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Four new officers add to ‘very large’ police spending hike

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Troy Shantz

Sarnia Police have unveiled an operating budget that includes a 7.1% spending increase next year.

Without change, police spending will rise by $1.6 million to $25.5 million under the spending package approved in principle by the Sarnia Police Services Board last week.

“Seven percent is a very large increase to take to City Council,” said board chair and mayor Mike Bradley.

Bradley requested a special meeting this week with Chief Norm Hansen and staff to see what, if anything, can be trimmed.

Salaries and benefits account for the largest portion (2.77%) of the proposed increase, according to a report tabled by the chief.

Staff salary and wages make up 87% of total police expenditures, and this is the final year of a three-year collective agreement. No contract is in place for 2020.

Upgrading to the next generation of 911 service will cost another $405,000, accounting for 1.7% of the 7.1% spending increase.

Chief Hansen said his hands are tied on the new 911 service, which will allow for texting and video capabilities. The mandatory upgrades were thrust onto municipalities by the province, Hansen said.

Later this month, he and other Ontario police chiefs will take their concerns to Queen’s Park and make the case for provincial assistance.

This summer, city council approved in principle the hiring of four new police officers. That will cost an additional $339,500 in the first year, and accounts for 1.42% of the spending increase.

The four recruits, who are scheduled to begin January 2020, will raise the number of uniformed officers to 115, up from the current 111 officers. Sarnia Police also has 44 full-time civilian staff.

To lessen dependence on city reserves, the draft budget also calls for transferring $862,500 to police reserves, which is 40% more to reserves than in 2019.

The Police Board asked if the rollout of new recruits can be staggered to save money.

“We really need to zero in on the four new officers and the phasing in of that, and also the reserve accounts and how that impacts on the budget,” Bradley said.

Details were requested about $100,000 the budget sets aside for building maintenance, which police financial services director Cathy Dam said is an estimate.

Overtime, training, and a growing requirement for data entry by police administrators also impact the budget, board members noted.

Take out the four new officers and the 911 upgrade and the budget is consistent with previous years, Hansen said.

“I expected (the board) not to like a 7% increase… but we’ve got extra things in it this year that we’ve pitched and we’re trying to improve the service,” said he said after the meeting.

The police budget must still be approved by city council. Under the Police Services Act, council has the authority to set overall budget targets but it can’t approve or disapprove specific items in the police budget.



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