Victoria is preparing for a situation similar to that which saw Vancouver ordered to restore millions of dollars in funding for its police department.
The City of Victoria approved the payment of $940,000 into its financial stability reserve at its April 14 council meeting to prepare for the possibility of the province charging it for non-budgeted policing resources – which have recently removed from the 2022 budget.
The move comes after the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Commission voted to invoke a Police Act appeal over the Victoria Police Service’s demands for 10 new positions and overtime.
In February, Victoria council approved $940,000 in 2022 for the new positions – six sworn and four civilian – but the budget process hit a snag last month when councilors in Esquimalt rejected funding for additional officers from strength.
Article 27 (3) of the Police Act states that disputes over budget items should be submitted to the Provincial Police Director, who determines “whether the item(s) or the amount should be included”.
On April 14, several Victoria councilors said the prudent option was to ensure the city had cash on hand if the province sided with the police commission and forced the capital and Esquimalt to pay VicPD requests.
A similar event occurred last month, when the BC Police Services Director ordered the City of Vancouver to reinstate a $5.7 million cut from the department’s 2021 budget.
After the decision, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart noted that his council decided to cut the police department’s 2021 budget “at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when all departments were being asked to to do more with less.
In the coming weeks, Victoria is expected to pass its 2022 budget which will include a property tax increase of around 3.9%. Staff recommended that the city collect an additional $218,000 this year in property taxes that would go towards the police budget appeal.
However, the council passed a measure to keep that money in taxpayers’ pockets this year. Com. Ben Isitt introduced this approved amendment because he said taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay in 2022 for a decision that might not even come this year. It took the province about a year to make a decision on the Vancouver police budget appeal.
VicPD requested an additional $4 million this year, for a total proposed budget of approximately $63.4 million. Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins defended her council’s decision last month, citing data showing the township was already paying too much for policing.
Desjardins told Black Press Media on Tuesday that the council decided to appeal to the province during a special meeting that lasted only about two minutes on April 5.