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Police board expresses concerns over growing policing costs

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Rising police costs are becoming a concern for the Winnipeg police board.

Lawyer Paul Edwards, the board’s finance chairman, cautioned the other board members this morning that soon taxpayers will not be able to afford the kind of budget increases the Winnipeg Police Service has been getting.

"That is an unsustainable level of increase," Edward said of the police budget increases of the last two years.

Echoing similar comments police board chairman Scott Fielding made last year on the floor of council, Edwards said the board and the WPS have to do a better job of using the funds provided by taxpayers.

Edwards said the police budget increases are driven by salaries and benefits, adding however he didn’t mean to say that officers were overpaid or didn’t deserve their salaries.

"We certainly need to have very clear discussions about efficient utilization of all those human resources," Edwards said.

The money talk came as board members endorsed the WPS global operating and capital budgets set out by Mayor Sam Katz and members of his executive policy committee Nov. 29.

This is the board’s first budget for the WPS since it came into being earlier this year.

According to provincial legislation that created the board, city council determines the global amount the WPS can spend and the board, in consultation with the WPS executive, works out a budget on how to arrive at that dollar amount.

Board executive director Don Norquay said he was taken surprise by the EPC budget for WPS, adding it was about $1.3 million less than what the board had proposed.

Norquay said he and the WPS executive had to scramble over the past week to come up with a revised budget to satisfy EPC.

The WPS said it originally appeared that it would have to cancel hiring new recruits in 2014.

That was avoided by bumping up estimates for revenues from traffic enforcement and staggering the recruit hiring over two stages.

Norquay said additional funds were also received from the extension of a policing contract with the Richardson International Airport.

However, all that rejigging still left the WPS $172,000 short of the EPC target.

Norquay said the WPS executive are satisfied they’ll make up the remaining funds through cost-saving moves throughout the year.

"Managing a (police) force of this size, with this amount of money, is going to require flexibility, innovation and creativity in how we do what we do," Edwards said, "because the dollars will not be there long-term."

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

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