Edmonton city council settles on $407M annual base funding for police

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Edmonton city council settles on $407M annual base funding for police
Edmonton city council has decided to make up for lost revenue for police. The city will be filling a $22-million hole but, more funding questions remain. Morgan Black has more from city hall – Jun 7, 2022

Edmonton city council was again debating how best to fund its local police service on Tuesday. In a vote of 12-1, councillors approved Edmonton Police Service (EPS) receiving at least $407 million annually from the city for the next four-year budget cycle.

Ward pihêsiwin Coun. Tim Cartmell says it buys the city time to find long-term answers to address social disorder.

The motion had two parts:

1. That the Edmonton Police Service receives operating funding of $407 million (net operating requirement) starting in 2023 on an ongoing basis.

That part passed in a vote of 12-1. Ward Papastew Coun. Michael Janz was the only vote against.

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2. That the budget process for Edmonton Police Service funding align with existing civic department processes for the development of the 2023-26 operating budget.

That part was defeated in a vote of 8-5.

Instead, in a vote of 11-2, councillors decided that: “Administration, in consultation with the Edmonton Police Service and the Edmonton Police Commission, develop a revised funding formula and related policy, and return to city council for approval as part of the 2023-2026 operating budget deliberations.”

In addition to mayor and councillors, city manager Andre Corbould, Edmonton police deputy chief Kevin Brezinski, police commissioner Ashvin Singh and Downtown Business Association executive director Puneeta McBryan were in attendance in city council chambers.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton councillors consider how to determine and allocate police funding'
Edmonton councillors consider how to determine and allocate police funding

The recommendation from city committee was that city council create a new, four-year funding formula.

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The other two options for EPS funding were: to create the police budget annually, like most other city departments or to essentially keep the EPS budget at equal or lesser value and make the long-term funding decision later.

Corbould explained the four-year funding formula was the recommended approach because it provided “certainty and clarity.”

The initial baseline budget was set at $385 million but Cartmell introduced an amendment to increase that minimum to $407 million. That amendment passed 12-1. Janz was the only member to vote against it.

While Cartmell acknowledged police weren’t dealing with an outright funding reduction, it was an “absence of increases that were expected.”

Councillors brought up that the city is getting less funding from the province because of changes to the Traffic Safety and Automated Enforcement Reserve (TASER) — about $22 million less in photo radar funds.

That reserve has held steady at $22.3 million since 2019. However, photo radar funding is decreasing. The province is taking a larger share of revenues, there were fewer vehicles (and tickets) on the road during the pandemic, there’s a moratorium on adding new locations and equipment, and there are new rules requiring photo radar vehicles to be bright green and more visible.

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Click to play video: 'Alberta puts brakes on more photo radar in province; introduces new rules'
Alberta puts brakes on more photo radar in province; introduces new rules

Many councillors expressed a strong desire to debate and create a revised police funding formula that would include other social agencies and support the work they do at a later time. Part 2 of the amendment — that “the budget process for Edmonton Police Service funding align with existing civic department processes for the development of the 2023-36 operating budget” — was voted down.

Ward sipiwiyiniwak Coun. Sarah Hamilton questioned why funding for other departments go up and down, like snow clearing and transit, for instance. She said the city and councillors have spent years defending traditional funding models for police and became emotional because “this is the reason I joined this council, so we wouldn’t leave a legacy that’s been left to us.”

“We have an opportunity before us that is so exciting because we can do things differently,” Hamilton said.

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Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said he values the work EPS does to keep the community safe and he also values the work other parts of the city corporation — like fire, transit, snow removal and social workers — do.

He said the base funding provides predictability for police, while a revised formula is also important.

“The way we’re funding our services is not sustainable in our current climate,” the mayor said, adding that continuing to fund police in the current manner would require a 4-4.5 per cent tax levy increase.

“Twenty-two per cent of our tax levy goes to police. In my mind, that’s not sustainable in the long term,” Sohi said.

Click to play video: 'Alberta justice minister warns Edmonton city council to properly fund police or province may step in'
Alberta justice minister warns Edmonton city council to properly fund police or province may step in

He added that the city’s contribution to police has increased over the last two decades, even in the last two years.

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“Where did it decrease? That’s where I want to highlight… In 2004, the Alberta government gave $16 per capita for police funding. That’s $16 has not been adjusted for inflation since 2004.

“That’s where the reduction has come to police budget,” the mayor said.

The changes to photo radar revenues, Sohi said, also leave Edmonton with a funding gap to bridge, if that’s the direction council goes.

“The reduction of the share from the province has increased… which meant less money available that we can allocate to police,” Sohi added. “We don’t hear that. I commit to sharing that. It’s not partisanship. It’s pure facts.

“Others need to step up.”

During the debate, Sohi asked the deputy police chief if $407 million would provide police with more certainty and Brezinski responded: “Yes, it would.”

The police commissioner said having less than $407 million in base funding from the city would mean budget and resource decisions would have to be made since it wouldn’t “reflect the proposed increase” under the current formula. That might include labour and staffing decisions, Singh said.

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Another funding-related motion was carried 13-0 Tuesday evening: “That administration conduct a jurisdictional scan of all current sources of police funding, included but not limited to municipal tax-supported funding, provincial funding, grants and traffic fines, and enforcements funding broken down per capita for comparable municipalities within Canada over 500,000 population using publicly available data, and report back to council in third quarter 2022.”

Policing is currently the most expensive thing Edmontonians pay for through taxes. The EPS budget for 2022 is $407-million.

“We want to have the best police service that’s able to keep our community safe and able to respond as quickly to the issues that pose serious harm to individuals, to the community,” Sohi said. “But at the same time, should we have police officers respond to non-violent or non-threatening situations?”

Two violent and random homicides in Chinatown last month brought the issue of public safety to the forefront.

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It also prompted some citizens and stakeholders to question whether changes to police funding are appropriate now, when they say more boots on the ground are needed.

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