Are skyrocketing revenues from photo radar and traffic fines the answer to a possible multi-million-dollar police budget deficit?
Police and police board officials said they won’t sanction a ticket blitz on motorists to balance this year’s budget.
A citizen advocacy group said the public won’t tolerate such a tactic.
"Rather than nickel-and-diming the motoring public, the police have to learn to contain their costs," said Colin Craig, Prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
Red flags were raised this week when two related reports presented to the Winnipeg police board showed that the 2014 police budget is facing a serious deficit with few options but going cap-in-hand back to city hall for additional funds.
The WPS is facing unexpected budget costs from: rising fuel prices, negotiated salary settlements, a labour arbitration ruling, loss of 3rd party policy contracts, and uncertainties surrounding real costs associated with police moving into their new Smith Street headquarters.
Paul Edwards, the chairman of the police board’s budget sub-committee, said 83 per cent of the WPS budget is allocated to salaries and benefits, adding that leaves little room for the police to find the necessary savings.
"There are very limited flexibilities and opportunities but, nevertheless, we need to find them," Edwards said.
It wouldn’t be the first time a ticket blitz was used to bolster police revenue. In early 2012, front-line officers were instructed to issue at least one ticket per shift. The confusion surrounding the placement of photo radar at construction sites in the summer of 2009 was cited as proof the technology was being used to generate revenue.
The continued use of photo radar remains controversial. Police told the police board Friday that digital technology is now making it easier to identify vehicle licenses that often were too blurry to earn a ticket in the past. The introduction of new "laser" cameras is allowing police to place the devices in other locations.
But Chief Devon Clunis said ticket enforcement revenues are directly related to the bad habits of motorists — don’t speed and you won’t get a ticket, Clunis said.
"When you get a ticket, the police service is not targeting you — you are breaking the law, you’re creating danger for yourself and other citizens," Clunis said. "We’ll never apologize for doing that part of the job."
Board chairman Coun. Scott Fielding, who has always opposed the implementation of photo radar, said he won’t support generating additional revenues from enforcement.
Fielding said he remains confident that the police budget will be balanced by the end of the year.
"I have no concerns that we’ll be in the red by the end of the year," Fielding said.
Fielding said the police budget situation has been caused by circumstances outside police control — the police executives weren’t responsible for the salary settlement or the decision that led to the costly arbitration case — so city hall should make up any shortfalls that are needed.
City hall has flexibility in budgeting matters that the police do not, he said, adding city hall can find the additional funds if it’s needed.
"I know how the financial situation (at city hall) works," Fielding said.
Craig said police salaries and benefits have increased at a higher rate than other government workers and much faster than the average worker.
"We’re not in a position to sustain that kind of growth in salaries and benefits," Craig said.