The Sarnia Police Services Board unanimously approved a 9.98% increase for its 2024 budget, Thursday. In addition to the budget totalling just over $33.4 million, the board — in a 3-2 vote — also approved a one-time capital and operating reserve infusion of $450,000.
“We are trying to stretch this as far as we can to meet the demands of today,” Chief Derek Davis said of the budget increase that was first trimmed from 17.2%, then 12.1%.
“We are trying to address historical operational needs and we’re trying to do it in a responsible way moving forward,” he added, pointing to ‘unfunded issues that could have perhaps been addressed in the past.’
“It really does whittle down to — is the issue the 10% proposed this year? Or is it the 1% that could have been for the past ten years?
“There’s a lot of legacy that… we’re struggling with.”
Davis stressed the need for building repairs at the 36-year-old Christina St. headquarters.
“Currently we have $4 million in unfunded liability to building repair… that didn’t happen overnight. But it is what it is today, and part of that has to be in our budget.”
He also pointed to a history of inadequate reserve accumulation, increased workloads, inflationary pressures and anticipated requirements through the Community Safety and Policing Act (CSPA) expected to be enacted sometime next year.
While about 92% of the budget covers salaries and benefits, Davis highlighted a number of needs deemed essential to ‘achieving adequate and effective policing in 2024.’ The budget includes a canine (K9) officer, crime analyst, two civilian communicators (911/dispatch), four additional sergeant positions, and a corporate communications coordinator.
“We’ve had to defer a considerable amount of things that we know we need but we’re unable to pursue…” he added, pointing to in-car and body-worn cameras, updated equipment and technology, and additional MHeart (Mental Health Engagement and Response Team) resources.
“If we were to cut any more from this budget, would that compromise our ability to provide adequate, effective policing?” Wiersma asked the chief during the meeting. “Have we really distilled it down to the essentials at this point?”
Davis responded, “Yes. I would raise strong concerns about our ability to operationally provide adequate, effective policing.”
Board member Kelly Ash said the last few years on the board has been ‘challenging’ and likened it to walking a tightrope.
“We face criticism at every turn and we are ripped apart on social media, in the public eye and by some of our elected officials who do not understand the position that we are in,” she said. “I’m a taxpayer; I don’t particularly want to see my taxes increase; however I do want to live in a city where I can take my grandchildren to the park without fear.
“I want to live in a city where someone fishing on our waterfront is not attacked,” she added. “We can’t have any of this if our services is not adequately funded.
“As a city we can spend all the money we want on everything looking pretty, but if it’s not safe, what’s the point.”
A concerning lack of reserve resources prompted board member Charlene Sebastian to motion for a one-time infusion of $450,000 as recommended in the board report (other options were $600,000 or $1.2 million). That was passed in a 3-2 vote with board member Chrissy McRoberts and chair Paul Wiersma opposing.
The budget still requires city council approval.