By Heather Abrey
Kitchener Post staff
At least eight officers are among cuts proposed to bring the Waterloo Regional Police Service budget down to a number Waterloo Regional council can accept.
Police originally brought forward a budget, which police Chief Matt Torigian said included no service increases, that would have increased regional taxes by 2.65 per cent.
After presenting options that would bring the tax increase down to 2.5, 2, 1.5 or 1 per cent, the police service board passed a motion to put together a budget with a tax impact of 1.75 per cent.
The proposed cuts include eight constables, 2.5 records clerks and a variety of materials and equipment reductions, among others.
The increase in the 2013 budget, which would still be seven per cent higher than 2012, is driven largely by salaries and the costs of staffing the new consolidated courthouse, which is scheduled to open in the spring.
“Service-wide, from an operational support standpoint, costs — whether it be equipment and materials, maintenance — are as required to keep the lights on and the gas in the cars. So it comes down to staff,” said Joseph Steiner, from the WRPS administration and finance division.
Originally, WRPS intended to hire eight special constables to staff the courthouse. That number was reduced to four in the new budget, and one criminal courts secretary job was also cut.
The eight constable positions would be cut through attrition, meaning no new staff would be hired to replace constables that resign or retire.
However, because retirements and resignations are spread throughout the year, it’s likely that 10 to 15 officers would actually be lost to cover the financial cut, according to Torigian.
“It won’t come from frontline patrol or investigative services. We’ve reduced our investigative capacity over the last couple of years as it is, so we can’t reduce investigations to any levels below where they are now,” said Torigian of the staff cuts.
“As a community, are you going to see a massive change? No.”
While rural police branches in Elmira and New Hamburg were also on the chopping block, they received a reprieve from the police service board.
“Operationally we know [the rural branches] don’t add a lot of value, but to the people in the rural areas there is the optics of there being a police presence when there’s a detachment,” said board chair Tom Galloway.
Closing the two branches would have saved about $150,000 — something Torigian favours over additional staff cuts.
“Our product is our people, and our people provide an incredible, valuable service to our community. So when faced with the prospects of having to reduce budget, I would rather reduce the bricks and mortar than the people,” he said.
“The rural areas are operationally cumbersome for us.”
Galloway acknowledged that the branches add little value beyond optics. They don’t decrease response times or crime, and they don’t increase the number of police officers in the area at any given time, he said.
The branches are closed more than they are open, according to Torigian. An officer staffs each branch from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday. However, if that officer has to hit the road, the doors close, he said.
Speaking to regional councillors later in the day, Torigian was happy to explain the approved budget — but not so willing to defend it.
“This means reducing the level of service. This is not our recommendation. I certainly don’t recommend this,” he said.
Galloway, who also chairs the region’s budget committee, took issue with Torigian’s claim that the approved budget represented a reduced level of service.
“There is a net increase in this budget in staff, and there’s a 7.3 per cent increase in expenditure. That is certainly not a budget that anyone could characterize as a significant reduction of service,” he said.
In an interview, Torigian argued that increased fixed expenses, an increasing population that demands service and staffing for the courthouse mean that though the budget is increasing, the level of service will have to be cut.
“It’s very clear that the board has signaled their willingness to reduce the level of service that we currently provide, so it will require us to reprioritize,” said Torigian.
“While this is growth, because the growth does match the demands, even though we are growing, we’re losing services.”
Although regional councillors usually rubber-stamp the police board’s approved budget, North Dumfries Mayor Rob Deutschmann and Kitchener Coun. Geoff Lorentz both suggested they would conisder giving the police more money than requested if it would be used to hire more officers.
“In my mind, we seem to be going the wrong way on providing officers,” said Lorentz.
With files from Ryan Flanagan