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'Playing catch-up': High policing costs go unchallenged by council

'We at the (police services) board recognize this is a significant funding request. We feel this is in a reasonable range,' says chairman
Deputy Mayor Robert Thomson represents Ward 5 in Barrie.

If city councillors have a problem with this year’s Barrie Police Service budget, which asks for millions more, they made little noise about it last night.

Barrie police officials presented a budget Wednesday which asks for 7.28 per cent more, or a $4.29-million increase, to its 2023 budget. This year’s city funding for the police is pegged at $63.24 million, an increase from $58.95 million last year.

“It is a large ask,” said Deputy Mayor Robert Thomson. “It’s tough when society is in a hole to look at a number like this.”

Coun. Bryn Hamilton called 7.28 per cent "a substantial increase." 

But Thomson, who is also vice-chairman of the Barrie Police Services Board, said police have been underfunded for more than a decade.

“I don’t want to see this type of increase every year, but we are playing catch-up,” he said.

Police are asking for four more civilian employees this year and five new sworn officers, bringing those totals to 125 and 250 respectively. Barrie police has been at 245 officers since 2020.

“We are front-lined focused,” said Barrie Police Chief Rich Johnston regarding how the five new recruits will be deployed.

“There is no small crime if you are a victim and it hurts,” he added. “We look at the harm from crime.”

Coun. Nigussie Nigussie said he hopes to see a greater police presence in Barrie.

“I think the police’s primary job is not to search for crime … but to prevent crime before it is committed,” he said. “A lot of people live in fear. They feel they are not protected.”

“Whether it’s more police or less police, we all want better policing,” said Coun. Jim Harris.

“We need to see more (boots) on the ground,” said Mayor Alex Nuttall, who also sits on the police services board. 

The four new civilian employees comprise two in human resources, one in information technology and another in records.

Councillors did ask city police officials questions about the complement of officers, what type of bench-marking there is for officers, the priority of school presence, and converting the police fleet to electric vehicles. 

Salaries, benefits and overtime make up $56.54 million of this year’s police budget. Of that total, 75 per cent is salaries, 24 per cent is benefits and one per cent is overtime.

What police call unavoidable increases to this year’s budget include a 3.5 per cent increase in salaries and 1.7 per cent more for benefits.

This year’s police budget also includes a $1.88 million transfer to the Barrie police capital reserves for the fleet of vehicles, information technology, specialized technology, radio equipment, and the city’s radio-system upgrade.

Another cost is almost $3.7 million to support Ontario’s First Responders Act, so first-responders with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) get mental health treatment.

Barrie police also expects to have almost $7.96 million in operating costs this year.

Police spending is traditionally the largest segment of Barrie’s annual operating budget. It was 21.8 per cent last year, 22.2 per cent in 2021.

The police budget is 22.1 per cent of the city budget this year.

“We at the (police services) board recognize this is a significant funding request,” said board chairman Greg Ferguson. “We feel this is in a reasonable range.”

Barrie homeowners face a 3.95 per cent property tax at this stage in the city’s 2023 operating and capital budget process, which includes approving the police budget. This would mean $182 more for a typical Barrie home assessed at $365,040. Its taxes last year were $4,612.

Adding $182 would make this year’s property taxes on that home $4,794. This breaks down to $2,694 or 56 per cent for city services, $1,541 or 32 per cent for the city’s service partners (city police, the County of Simcoe and Barrie Public Library) and $559 or 12 per cent for education. And the Barrie police share of the $4,794 is $946, according to city budget numbers. 

The next highest numbers to police for city services are Barrie Fire and Emergency Service at $433 and $409 for the County of Simcoe, which supplies land ambulances and paramedics, health and emergency services, Ontario Works, children’s services, social housing, long-term care, seniors services and community services, which includes homelessness, to the city. 

The annual city budget also sets service levels, along with the taxes and fees to pay for city services, as well as water and sewer (wastewater) rates.

On a typical household that consumes 180 cubic metres of water annually, the bill was $374.25 last year. With this year’s 3.7 per cent increase, which is worth $13.75, the 2023 water bill will be $388.

Last year’s sewer bill of $532.46 is slated to increase by five per cent, which is $26.54, for a 2023 total wastewater bill of $559 - again on that typical household consuming 180 cubic metres of water annually. 

Increases in property taxes, water and sewer all add up to $222.29 more for Barrie residents living in a typical home assessed at $365,040 — at this stage in city councils budget process.

Property taxes are calculated based on the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation’s (MPAC) assessed value. MPAC last did a province-wide assessment in 2016, so these property values are significantly lower than actual 2023 market values.

The police board approved its draft 2023 budget last October, but its operating and capital budget requires approval from Barrie city council.

Barrie councillors are scheduled to begin budget deliberations Feb. 8-9 and the budget could be considered for final approval by city council at its Feb. 15 meeting.