Sudbury council asks police board for $500,000 cut

Board, however, can ignore request

Mayor Brian Bigger, shown in this file photo, wants the Greater Sudbury Police board to cut $500,000 from the service's 2020 budget. John Lappa/Sudbury Star

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Councillors are asking the police board to do some tinkering with its 2020 budget.

The finance committee met Wednesday for a second day of budget deliberations. While progress has been fairly slow so far, councillors did vote to send the 2020 budget for the Greater Sudbury Police Services back to the police board to skim a little off the top.

At Mayor Brian Bigger’s suggestion, council voted to return the police budget to the board to find $500,000 in savings, which would have a 0.2 per cent impact to the tax levy, taking the increase from 3.5 to 3.3 per cent. That $500,000 is part of the board’s plan to fund a new $60-million police headquarters and would have been added to a capital reserve fund.

“I see this amount being a contribution to a reserve – it should not have an impact to operations or anybody’s employment or anything like that,” Bigger said. “To me it’s a pretty straightforward ask.”

As Ward 6 Coun. Rene Lapierre noted, the current facility no longer meets the needs of the police force. For one thing, newly arrested people are marched in through the front doors and past visitors to the public elevators.

“The police service requires this building,” he said. “They’ve been working at it for a little bit; they’re slowly putting money aside in order to lessen the impact when it’s time. But at one point or another, the board is going to say, ‘let’s build this,’ which will have a significant impact if we don’t have some of those savings set aside.”

The committee approved the 2020 Greater Sudbury Police Services budget on Tuesday, but Bigger introduced the idea for reconsideration Wednesday. The police budget stands at nearly $68.6 million, but there will only be a $63 million impact to the tax levy. As Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh pointed out Tuesday, the police budget went up by nearly five per cent.

Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti, Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan, Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo and Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer all voted against reconsideration, but the mayor’s suggestion passed. Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini was absent from Wednesday’s deliberations.

Vagnini, chair of the police board, said Wednesday that while council can request the board re-examine the budget, there is very little they can do to impose budgetary reductions.

“The municipality can’t tell police or the board where the money has to go,” he said. “They can say yes or no to the budget, but they cannot tell us where we can spend money. With all due respect to the mayor, he can’t tell us we have to trim $500,000 off for money going towards a new build.”

Vagnini said the hands-off approach prevents situations of conflict of interest; for example, were a councillor to be caught driving under the influence or trying to disappear a speeding ticket.

“Had we done what I said a week ago – a bottom-up approach – this probably wouldn’t be happening,” Vagnini said. “They wouldn’t be going back to the budget and taking things out afterwards after they’ve approved it because they would have used a zero-based approach.”

Ed Archer, the city’s CAO, told councillors last month that staff have prepared the 2020 budget based on a 3.5 per cent tax increase, which equates to about $9 more per month on a home valued at $230,000.

The 2020 operating budget stands at about $615 million, a significant increase of about $22 million over the 2019 budget, which totaled $593 million. Policing in the Nickel City accounts for 21 per cent of your tax bill, while road construction and maintenance account for another 18 per cent. Fire services and paramedics account for nine and four per cent, respectively.

Archer told council last month staff has budgeted about $162 million for the 2020 capital budget. Half of that will be dedicated to roads and drainage projects. Other investments include asset renewal, technology solutions, facility investments and road maintenance equipment. If all goes according to plan, more than $20 million will go towards winter road maintenance, Archer said.

Staff is also recommending a special capital levy of 1.5 per cent to address infrastructure and asset renewal; however, council did not discuss the levy on day two.

Budget deliberations continue Thursday at 4 p.m. in council chambers. Meetings are open to the public or you can livestream at livestream.com/greatersudbury.

 

mkkeown@postmedia.com

Twitter: @marykkeown

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