By Heather Abrey
Kitchener Post staff
The preliminary Waterloo Regional Police Service budget, as presented to the police service board on Wednesday morning, could increase taxes in Waterloo Region by up to 2.65 per cent.
Members of the board directed police chief Matt Torigian and his staff to return with several options that would decrease the tax impact to one, 1.5, two or 2.5 per cent.
“Most years we talk about small equipment and what can be deferred,” said Tom Galloway, chair of the police board. “I know you’ve gone through that process already of evaluating small equipment and no doubt are deferring already, but is there any opportunity to defer?”
According to Joe Steiner, the WRPS director of administration and finance, the budget is a work in progress and there will be “downward movement” in the area of small equipment expenses.
A number of matters are putting pressure on the police budget, which accounts for the largest piece of regional taxes, according to Galloway.
“Over the last 10 years, police have averaged a 6.51 per cent increase each and every year,” said Galloway. “Other regional programs have averaged an increase of 4.43 per cent. Police is about 50 per cent higher growth than all other regional programs combined.”
Among the pressures on the budget is the new consolidated courthouse. WRPS must provide staffing for the courthouse — which is slated to open in the spring of 2013 — including eight special constables, which amount to more than $500,000 in salaries and benefits.
The biggest expenses for WRPS every year are salaries and benefits, which account for 85 per cent of the budget. Arbitration and negotiated salaries can have a large impact on the overall budget, according to Galloway.
“When you’re talking about a budget that is 85 per cent salaries and benefits, counting paper clips doesn’t go very far,” he said.
Police originally planned to ask for the hiring of 15 new officers and 26 civilian staff, 18 of which are a carried-over request from the previous two years.
After reviewing the numbers, and taking into account a new program that aims to use staff hours more efficiently, the request for 15 new officers has been deferred until 2014 and the 26 civilian staff reduced to 19.
According to the Ontario Municipal Benchmarking Initiative, Waterloo Region and other municipalities of like size have similar per-capita policing costs.
Waterloo Region, based on a population of 553,000, which includes students, has a cost of $230.88 per person. Halton sits at about $229.23 per person, while Hamilton comes in at $262.61 per person.