By Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative
The Chatham-Kent Police Service will see a 1.16 per cent budget increase, the lowest since amalgamation, after council approved its 2021 proposal.
On Wednesday, the first round of budget deliberations took place virtually, where police chief Gary Conn presented council with CKPS’ projected expenditures.
The overall police budget is $32.3 million, and the increase will cost residents 0.23 per cent in the form of a tax hike.
“This is the lowest increase for our police budget in the history, 23 years, of our existence,” Conn said. “ I think that given the additional challenges associated to COVID, as well as having to forecast contractual issues for 2021, this budget, although not quite meeting council’s direction of one per cent, is very close and fiscally responsible.”
Conn said CKPS will not be reducing any service levels despite the historically low budget and no additional staffing requests were in the works.
Eighty-nine per cent of the operating budget goes toward salaries, wages and benefits, Conn said. The force is currently made up of 164 sworn officers and 62 civilian staff.
CKPS is still in negotiations with Leamington for a contract to police its municipality. Conn said it will likely have no impact on the budget if CKPS is successful with the request for proposal.
“In regards to this RFP, we have factored in issues for example, severance pay buyouts and things of that nature, so that it does not have to have an effect on any of the taxpayers here in Chatham-Kent,” Conn said.
Five per cent of the budget is reserved for fleet-related costs, four per cent will be allocated for equipment and other administrative needs, while the remaining two per cent will be allocated to crime prevention and other operational expenses.
As per the Ontario Police Services Act, the police board does not have to provide council with a line-by-line expense list as it does not have the authority to disapprove specific items in the budget.
In 2020, CKPS responded to an average of 211 calls per day for a total of 76,851 occurrences. That number was up by 4,556 since 2019, and Conn added that the majority of calls can be attributed to the mental health issues.
“Only about 20 per cent of our incidents are crime, with the other 80 per cent with what we refer to as complex disorders.”
Since 2006, the service has seen a 10-per-cent increase in mental health calls for service adding up every year, and a 23 per cent increase since 2019.
After Conn’s presentation, the budget committee spent the remainder of its time going through several infrastructure items.
The total proposed tax hike for 2021 has decreased from 3.93 per cent to 3.8 per cent after Coun. Melissa Harrigan entered a successful motion to shave the proposed storm sewer lifecycle budget down to $475,000 from $675,000.
Harrigan said she places value in the underground infrastructure funding, however, it was important council start trimming items in order to bring the proposed increase down.
“We all have to give a little bit of our priorities and but still continue to invest in what’s important,” she said.
Any decisions made at the deliberations are not final until the budget officially passes. The next budget deliberations are set for Thursday at 6 p.m.