Edmonton police, representing the biggest portion of Edmonton’s budget, pleaded their case at city hall on Thursday.
Public hearings are underway as councillors hear from different stakeholders and groups as they try to finalize funding.
In 2019, city administration is recommending a 3.3 per cent tax hike, which means the average household would be paying an extra $80 next year. The proposed tax increase over the four-year budget cycle ranges from 3.3 to two per cent.
In some cases, the EPS request makes up more than half the tax increase.
On Thursday, Edmonton police leaders outlined why police need additional funds. The recent legalization of cannabis and all the enforcement issues that are falling to police officers is one reason, according to the deputy police chief.
“Cannabis issues are going to escalate regardless of whether council chooses to fund officers to address them or not,” Al Murphy said. “And police officers must respond to these calls.
“If council takes a wait-and-see approach and decides to delay or defer this funding, we expect slower response times, reduced visibility and a further reduction in our proactive times. All of these outcomes contradict what taxpayers have said they want from their police service,” Murphy said.
He said so far this year, police have dealt with 34 suspected cannabis-impaired drivers, compared to 11 in 2017 and just one in 2016.
“Post legalization, we have also seen a serious injury collision where there was a suspected impairment by cannabis,” the deputy police chief said.
The province, through its Municipal Cannabis Transition Program, is only providing Edmonton with about $2 million over two years. But police estimate their cannabis-related costs will be closer to $7 million or $8 million.
Current resources are just not enough, police stressed.
The current EPS budget is in the $430-million range, which includes about 2,500 full-time positions. EPS is proposing an increase over the next four years. By 2022, the police budget could be more than $500 million and include 2,800 staff, if council approves the budget request.
Another issue increasing demand on local police is the annexation of new lands south of Edmonton city limits, which means officers have a larger jurisdiction to monitor and enforce.
Police Chief Kevin Brezinski admits councillors have a very difficult job.
“If they cut our budget, obviously we’re going to have to go back to the drawing board and determine what do we want to give up.
“Ultimately we’d like them to approve our budget as is. I think it will be better for the public. It will be able to address some of the public safety concerns in the city.”