The 5.7 per cent bump from 2022 will allow an already-stretched service to hire and retain members, invest in mental health support, and contend with rising costs of operational necessities like fuel. Photo credit: Twitter/Bryan MacCulloch
Despite continued calls to “defund the police” across North America, and the recent efforts of local activist groups, Niagara Regional Police (NRP) will have an increased operating budget this upcoming fiscal year.
At a marathon meeting last Thursday night, budget review committee members approved in principle a $177.9 operating budget for 2023, a 5.7 per cent increase from last year.
The increased funds, according to NRP chief Bryan MacCulloch, are necessary to hire more officers and civilian specialists, invest in member wellness, and keep up with wage increases and rising fuel costs.
“When we bring forward a budget request, we are not playing a negotiating game, we are not over-asking so we end up getting something smaller,” MacCulloch told councillors Thursday. “What we ask for is what we need to adequately and effectively police our community.”
One bone of contention at the committee meeting was whether the NRP should have to use any surplus carry-over from 2022 to offset the $177.9 million price-tag – a proposition floated by St. Catharines regional councillor Brian Heit, seconded by Laura Ip.
Whether the NRP had a surplus last year, and how much, will be known in March.
MacCulloch, supported by Mayor of Port Colborne and former NRP board chair Bill Steele, among other councillors, argued that any surplus funds should go toward building back the service’s contingency reserves.
The reserves were depleted the term before last. The NRP reportedly has only $900,000 in the bank for any unforeseen financial pressures.
“You can’t subsidize operating (budgets) – operating is continuous,” said Mayor Steele. “You can always put off buying a police car, or a back-hoe if you’re in the public works sector of Niagara Region, to off-set your everyday budget. It just doesn’t make sense.”
The amendment to require any surplus be used to lower the 2023 operating budget was ultimately defeated, with the original recommendation from the NRP – a 5.7 per cent increase without surplus-related strings attached – carried.
In a letter posted to social media and circulated to councillors prior to last Thursday’s meeting, Niagara Region Anti-Racism Association executive committee member Saleh Waziruddin called for regional councillors to ask the NRP to lower its operating budget.
According to Waziruddin, a long-time member of and former political candidate for the Communist Party of Canada, shifting welfare checks and mental health calls to a civilian service would result in a “significant reduction of the operating budget”.
“There is also a moral and equity reason for shifting these service calls away from police, not just a financial one,” said Waziruddin. “Welfare checks and mental health calls do not all require an armed response and can escalate dangerously and unnecessarily with the police, who are not the inappropriate service (sic) for these calls.”
The next budget committee is scheduled for February 9.
Niagara Regional Council is set to approve of the entire 2023 budget package at the end of February.