The first main conflict in Edmonton City Council’s budget debate cropped up on Wednesday. Edmonton police asked for $87 million more over four years to hire additional officers to deal with the emerging cannabis file and to patrol the annexed lands in Leduc County.
Councillors voted later Wednesday to approve a funding boost for police but $12 million less than EPS was asking for.
Council voted to give the Edmonton Police Service $75 million more over four years. That means the force could add 101 more positions, 58 fewer than interim chief Kevin Brezinski asked for.
“We’re going to go back and determine what our priorities are and we’re going to have to re-jig a few things but ultimately, we’ll be OK,” Brezinski said.
Those new positions will include hiring civilians to work the 911 dispatch centre to free up sworn officers there to return to investigative duties.
Council also singled out money for 24 officers necessary for cannabis enforcement.
“With it being legal and more people using cannabis and some of the new legislation that’s in place for impaired driving, we’re going to find more people – and this is based on some of our research that we’ve done with other jurisdictions – you’re going to see an increase of these sorts of offences six months down the road,” Brezinski said.
“And then when edibles are legal in 2019, you’re going to see an increase in the need for police resources.”
The funding for those 24 cannabis officers doesn’t come from property taxes. City council is using other money on a one-time basis for year one, hoping the province comes through in year two and beyond.
Councillor Andrew Knack originally tabled an amendment that would give police more money, just not nearly what they were looking for.
“The number that had jumped out at me was if we had approved what’s recommended, our total budget by 2022 would be about $424 million, which is actually higher than the City of Calgary’s.”
Knack said the EPS is looking for an 8.1 per cent increase — or $27 million — next year. What he was proposing works out to four per cent or $13 million.
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Brezinski said the full $87-million ask would cover more officers.
“I think 72 positions were geared toward patrol and that’s to deal with the increasing call volume,” Brezinski said at city hall on Wednesday.
“What is included in our budget of $87 million is $33 million in settlements — collective bargaining settlements — which other departments don’t have to deal with,” the chief added.
The mayor warned council against limiting police funding too much, especially in light of the increased demands officers are facing.
“We need to continue to monitor that against impacts of cannabis, proliferation of meth and opioids, other trends in addictions and mental health challenges that become policing challenges that become public safety challenges,” Don Iveson said.
“I see austerity as incompatible with public safety.”
Councillors considered a few different funding options.
“I see the other higher-reduction proposal here as constituting uncertainty,” Iveson said. “I see it as introducing real risk to public safety which I am not comfortable with.”
The proposed starting point for the 2019 budget is a 3.3 per cent property tax increase. Budget deliberations are expected to last through next week.
Police still have budget requests to be brought up later in the discussion which include another EPS helicopter and a shooting range.
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