May 21, 2014 4:27 pm

Saint John police ask for $1.5-million budget increase

SAINT JOHN – The Saint John Police Force has asked the city for an extra $1.5-million for the 2015 year, representing a 6.6 per cent budget increase.

The force’s 147 unionized officers signed a collective agreement recently that gives them a 12 per cent increase over three years. Chief Bill Reid asked for 6.6 per cent of that for next year during a presentation at Tuesday night’s council meeting. It’s a hefty price tag for a city struggling for money.

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But some people say it’s an investment the city can’t afford not to make.

“The point of the matter is, you have to be equipped to do complicated investigations which take severe funding and you cannot predict how many murders there is going to be,” said Bob Davidson with the New Brunswick Policing Association.

He says if the city were to freeze the policing budget or limit the department to a two per cent increase next year, the force wouldn’t have enough funds to pay salary increases and properly police the city.

“You can’t treat the police department like any other department. Policing is clearly unpredictable.”

The Richard Oland murder case has cost the force more than $1-million, and costs associated with that case continue to climb.

Davidson also said police have become primary responders in mental health cases in recent years, which is straining the budget.

An increase in property tax has been suggested to help pay for the added policing costs. But that’s not a popular idea among residents.

“It’s getting to the point where my taxes are more than my mortgage,” said resident Jocelyn Stevens.

Saint John city councillor Gerry Lowe doesn’t think it will come to that when the 2015 budget is decided on in the fall. But he doesn’t know how the city will afford another $1.5-million.

“I hope we don’t raise property taxes,” Lowe said. “And I hope some of these big projects that are supposed to come to the city, will come.”

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