Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Caught in a funding crunch

Police hit with rising costs, loss of $1.8-M arbitration case

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JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files
The department is looking at traffic-enforcement revenues to help make up some of the budget shortfalls this year.

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JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files The department is looking at traffic-enforcement revenues to help make up some of the budget shortfalls this year.

The Winnipeg Police Service is facing a budget crunch this year, but it could depend on a million-dollar handout from city hall and traffic-enforcement revenues to make up any shortfalls.

That's bad news for motorists who are still reeling from news this week that photo-radar profits in 2013 increased more than 100 per cent from the year before.

It's going to get worse for motorists this year. The WPS's first-quarter financial-status report shows photo-enforcement revenues are up an additional 42 per cent from the same period in 2013; and revenues from traditional traffic enforcement were 23 per cent more than from the same period the year before.

The financial report, which will be presented to the Winnipeg Police Board this morning, states the WPS is going to need that additional revenue, as it shows there are unexpected cost increases in several areas, including: rising fuel costs; negotiated salary increases; loss of third-party contract revenue; and financial uncertainties surrounding the police headquarters project.

Worse still, the city recently lost an arbitration case with the Winnipeg Police Association and will now have to pay 60 to 100 officers a total of $1.8 million for shortchanging them on vacation pay since 2006 -- money the WPS doesn't have and can't scrape together from within the budget, and will have to go cap-in-hand to city council.

'We all have to be vigilant to keep costs in line as much as we can, but the police service is an essential service and has to be funded'

-- Paul Edwards, chairman of the budget and finance subcommittee of the Winnipeg Police Board

But somehow, the first-quarter financial status report still paints a rosy picture for the WPS -- concluding it can end the year with a balanced budget, but it does not account for the $1.8 million needed as a result of the arbitration ruling, which was made in February.

Paul Edwards, the chairman of the budget and finance subcommittee of the fledgling Winnipeg Police Board, said the WPS is facing serious financial pressures but added they've been identified early in the year and hopefully can be addressed.

"There are a number of variables that have not come into clear focus," Edwards, one of five citizen members of the police board, said.

The board is responsible for working with the WPS to set its operating budget but is prohibited, by legislation, from dealing with operational issues and collective bargaining.

A spokeswoman for Chief Devon Clunis said no one from the WPS would answer questions on the financial concerns arising from the financial-status report before it's presented to today's police board meeting.

Edwards said there is very little wiggle room in the WPS budget. "We all have to be vigilant to keep costs in line as much as we can, but the police service is an essential service and has to be funded," Edwards said. "What we try to do is get it as right as we can," he said, adding salaries and benefits account for 83 per cent of the WPS budget.

The police board's financial juggling is made even more difficult, Edwards said, as it's also expected to give city hall a draft 2015 WPS budget in two weeks time.

"It's a very tight and committed budget -- we don't have a lot of flexibility," Edwards said. "We have a lot of slogging ahead of us this year to come within our allocation for this year."

Edwards said despite the huge increases in photo radar and traffic-enforcement revenues this year, he doesn't believe it's possible to make up the potential budget shortfalls by increasing the number of tickets issued to motorists.

Police don't believe the traffic-enforcement revenues will remain that high for the rest of the year, Edwards said.

Traffic enforcement, "is not the cash cow it might look like in this first quarter," Edwards said.

The arbitration ruling and the salary settlements caught the board by surprise, he said, as did the early end of some of the third-party policing contracts.

While the WPS is expecting city council to cover the costs associated with losing the arbitration hearing, Edwards said he's not convinced council will so readily agree to bail out the police.

"I'm expecting they're not just going to say OK," Edwards said. "There'll be some discussions."

However, Edwards said since the police board isn't involved in collective bargaining, he expects council to pick up the additional costs associated with the recently negotiated wage settlement.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 6, 2014 A3

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