The fate of Murney the Kingston, Ont. police horse is once again under the budget microscope.
Questions have been raised about whether the force can afford to keep the mounted patrol.
Taxpayers may have to saddle the cost to keep Murney on the streets.
“I think this is only the canary in the coal mine for what is most likely to come in terms of our discussion (residents), about public services,” says Christian Leuprecht, a Queen’s and RMC professor in Political Science and Public Policy.
“The efficiency and effectiveness of those services.”
At a recent Kingston police services board meeting, the subject of Murney — the public’s beloved police horse — was once again up for discussion.
This comes after the force projected a year-end deficit of $353,000, most of it linked to extra policing costs during the ongoing COVID pandemic.
“There are lots of things the public likes … but just because the public likes something, does that mean the police should necessarily pay for it?” said Leuprecht.
While Leuprecht serves on the police board, he makes it clear he does not speak for the board when it comes to budget decisions or the fate of the police horse.
It is not the first time there has been talk of putting Murney out to pasture.
Last fall, Kingston’s police chief, Antje McNeely, cut funding for Murney as part of the 2020 budget talks.
That sparked a public outcry and later a campaign was launched by the city to raise funds and sponsorships to keep Murney and her rider on the streets.
“This is a good opportunity for the public to weigh in on how they want to see their tax money spent,” Leuprecht said.
Currently it costs about $48,000 a year to care for and house Murney, but the coronavirus pandemic and a shortage of sponsorships have presented new financial pressures.
The question is: will Kingston taxpayers be willing to pony up the extra money to keep the mounted unit, if the police service has to embark on a new round of cost-cutting?
“As we are likely to enter times of austerity for public budgets, we are going to … likely have a series of harder conversations about what public services are nice to have, but ultimately discretionary and what public services are essential,” states Leuprecht.
Only $5,000 has been raised since the launch of a public campaign to keep Murney — funding that has slowed during the pandemic.