Edmonton police budget at razor-thin tipping point after cuts

Edmonton Police Commission members ran through the numbers Thursday ahead of city council’s budget talks in December. It doesn’t look good. Police are figuring out ways to cope with getting less money after the province decided to keep more of it for themselves.

“It’s a tough time and we’re doing everything we can within our budget to obviously absorb the decreases,” chief Dale McFee told reporters.

To show how tight things are, two budget documents have been published at Edmonton City Hall. The August update, which came out ahead of the Nov. 26 city council meeting, shows police with a surplus of $700,000. The updated September figure that the commission reviewed has things at a deficit of $500,000, a swing of $1.2 million.

“We realize that the economic times are hard so we need to do the best we can with what we have,” McFee said. “Reshuffle the deck, but we just need to make sure that we’re not going to jeopardize front-line response.”

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The bad hand will see money funneled through the province reduced by millions of dollars, Councillor Sarah Hamilton said.

READ MORE: Edmonton police budget taking $5M hit due to Alberta budget

Hamilton, one of two city council appointees to the police commission, said the number will be fluid because part of it comes from a share of revenue from police writing tickets.

“They (EPS) were getting 73 per cent (of the ticket take), they’re now going to get 60 per cent. That comes out to somewhere between $5 million and $10 million, depending on how many fines are levied.”

Another factor cutting into the EPS’ bottom line is higher costs for the DNA lab.

She said progressive thinking, like tackling the homeless problems, will save police resources in the long run, however money for permanent supportive housing was not in the provincial budget.

“You heard members of EPS say ‘Yeah, this resonates.’ And it resonates not just in housing, but in other sectors that they work in,” Hamilton told Global News.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you get what you always got. I think we’re tired of getting what we’ve always got.”

She hopes things don’t get worse as we move into 2020.

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“We have to be really conscience about cumulative impacts. That would be something I would hope council would consider.”

READ MORE: Alberta Budget 2019: What’s in it for Edmonton?

Council begins debating the updated 2020 budget after a public hearing on Dec. 5 at 1:30 p.m.

McFee is using history as an inspiration for finding a better way to do more with less.

“It’s kind of like Churchill says, ‘People are out of money, now we have to think.’ I think it’s something where we have to be a little bit more innovative. We have to think a little bit differently. We have to use it as an opportunity, but I think what’s really, really critical is that we don’t go too deep, because then you actually drive a reverse effect (where you make social problems worse) so what we’re figuring out is what that balanced piece is.”

City council set the police budget a year ago for 2019 at $362 million, rising to $412 million by 2022.

In a related City of Edmonton budget discussion that will come up at the Nov. 26 council meeting, the projected surplus for the city is $11 million at year’s end. That’s based on the third-quarter update in September, and a $16-million improvement over the second quarter update in June when council was told the city was facing a projected $5-million deficit.

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Savings were found in labour costs as positions were not filled.

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