After years of increases, Edmonton’s police funding may be stagnant next year.
Edmonton city council’s executive committee agreed Wednesday that the Edmonton Police Service should start with a $385 million base operating budget, beginning next year — the same as this year.
Coun. Erin Rutherford suggested the base amount.
“We’re looking at a really hard fiscal reality for our municipality,” Rutherford said. “I think it’s better to put a base budget out there now and what know where the baseline is.”
Rutherford put forward a motion on the base amount and noted that council can approve further funding for police when budget deliberations start in the fall.
The recommendation goes to council as a whole for a vote next week.
The base operating budget doesn’t factor in $22 million of revenues from photo radar, which brings the police’s total budget to $407 million this year, a million more than in 2021.
Police have seen steady increases in its operating budget over three years: $356 million in 2019, $373 million in 2020 and $384 in 2021.
Mayor Amarjeet Sohi agreed with the $385 million base.
As the city tried to keep property tax increases at a minimum over the past few years, Sohi said most departments had to take cuts or manage with a zero per cent increase in their budgets.
“At the same time, [the] police budget continued to go up,” Sohi said. “That is not sustainable for the city and the well being of other services that are absolutely equally important.”
Public transit, recreation centres and well-being initiatives are also important, Sohi argued.
John McDougall, chair of the Edmonton Police Commission, disagreed during an interview with media outside the meeting.
“I don’t think that sanitation services, or snow plowing, has much to do with community safety and well being,” McDougall argued. “You can’t compare departments that way.”
“It’s a completely different entity and it’s not a comparable entity.”
McDougall said he thinks the questions and queries from councillors are important but that it’s premature to propose a base budget.
The report presented to committee Wednesday outlines three ways the city could support the police.
One is a funding formula with a base operating budget that can be adjusted according to population growth and the rate of inflation.
Another is to treat the police like other city departments — they’d have to request specific amounts of money depending on the project or workload.
Council could also choose to freeze or reduce the budget.
City administration recommends the funding formula, which they say is reliable and consistent and wouldn’t overlap with the role of the police commission.
Tension has increased over two years since council held a public hearing into policing in the summer of 2020, during which many people called for the city to defund the police.
Rutherford said it took courage to propose the motion Wednesday.
During budget deliberations last fall, Rutherford suggested the police retain a million dollars in funding, after Coun. Michael Janz called for a zero increase in the police budget.
Council as a whole agreed, and Rutherford heard the response from the public.
“The amount of hate email and phone calls that my office received — and never have I sat in a chair like this and worry that my decision is going to affect my children and my family’s safety.”
The decision on how to fund police comes as the city works on a new community safety and well-being strategy, meant to involve social agencies and community groups that deal with mental health, homelessless and addictions.
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