Winnipeg police won’t meet budget savings target
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The Winnipeg Police Service expects it won’t meet a multi-million-dollar savings target council directed it to find this year.
Chief Danny Smyth said he would rather see another similar savings order in the 2023 update to council’s multi-year budget than be forced to cut costs right now.
“(The target has) allowed some flexibility. The alternative, if you want certainty, is to cut and then we would cut services and I don’t think anyone realistically thought that was an option… To be clear it would be staffing cuts, cuts to service,” Smyth told reporters Thursday.
The comments came shortly after council’s finance committee approved a police department request to spend an extra $4.25 million beyond its budget this year since the service predicts it won’t be able to save $9.1 million by the end of 2022, an in-year savings target city council directed the police to meet.
The savings are needed to address two pension shortfalls. The first occurred when council attempted to overhaul the police department’s pension plan to save millions of dollars per year. That was cancelled after an arbitrator ruled the unilateral move violated the collective bargaining agreement, eliminating the expected savings. A pension valuation later determined a need to increase employer contributions to the police pension plan, creating a need for additional money.
The financial situation could still improve by the end of 2022, Smyth said.
“It’s always very fluid through the year,” he said.
In addition to pension pressures, police saw an increased need for overtime and raised less money than expected from photo radar, since construction zone sites lacked enough room to include both proper warning signs and a safe spot for an officer to conduct enforcement.
“We didn’t really get any revenue this year from construction. That’s the first time, to my knowledge, that we’ve never accumulated any revenue from construction,” said Smyth.
Coun. Markus Chambers, chairman of the Winnipeg Police Board, agreed the savings targets are preferable to service cuts.
“The ultimate goal is to reduce complement service reductions… at a time when our calls for service are increasing. It goes back to citizen expectations about how quickly (police should) respond in an emergency situation,” said Chambers.
Simply increasing the police budget instead of setting savings targets in the budget could be challenging amid conflicting public feedback, he said.
“Anecdotally, I’m hearing on the streets that people are wanting a greater police presence to instill that confidence of safe communities. That comes at a cost… And I know there are still individuals out there who are talking about defunding police and moving money from police into other budgets,” he said.
Council is expected to release its 2023 budget, which will set funding for police and all other city departments, early next year.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.