Provincial funding announced this week to cover court security and prisoner transport was a welcome sight for the Barrie police, but despite the large sum, it still falls a bit short of covering all of the costs, says the mayor.
On Wednesday, Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte MPP and Attorney General Doug Downey unveiled more than $2.75 million, which will come through the Court Security and Prisoner Transportation Grant. The funding is an increase of nearly $28,000 over last year, despite the City of Barrie having included some funding in its 2020 budget.
In late-November, Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood made her budget presentation to city council, asking for almost $56 million in municipal funding to cover policing costs this year.
Greenwood's budget request came with almost $5.4 million in "challenges" heading into 2020 due to a reduction in provincial grants, "legislative impacts," salary increases and the move into the new headquarters on Fairview Road. The city ended up approving the budget and covering those costs.
Barrie police communications co-ordinator Peter Leon told BarrieToday that the ongoing funding announced this week was part of a promise made a few years ago to keep courts safe for everyone as a top priority.
“This is money that was identified quite a number of years ago, because of the continual increased cost of court security,” Leon said. “When it became downloaded to the municipalities, where the courthouses are located, it became a significant expense. The provincial government recognized that and made commitments to provide funding.”
In 2012, the province committed to uploading court security costs from municipalities, which meant Barrie taxpayers would no longer have to pay for the costs of prisoner transportation and security at the provincial courthouse on Mulcaster Street.
Mayor Jeff Lehman said he's happy to see the Ontario government assisting local police, but also points out that it's less than what was previously provided just two years ago.
“I appreciate the province providing this funding, however at $2.7 million for 2020, this is over $300,000 less than what was provided by the province in 2018, when the Barrie police received $3,084,000 from the province for court security,” Lehman told BarrieToday.
Lehman said last year’s police budget factored in continued uploading, and they were planning on $400,000 more, yet received $300,000 less.
The upload of the costs happened over time and from 2012 to 2018 the amount had increased by approximately $400,000 annually, reaching just over $3 million in 2018.
Lehman said the effect is that Barrie taxpayers are still paying for some of the province’s court security costs.
The full cost for the courthouse is budgeted at just over $4 million for 2020.
The mayor points out the work previously done by the province.
“I do want to recognize, though, that the ministry has provided some other funding for some of the Barrie police’s one-off projects,” Lehman said. “While this is not funding we can use for regular operations, it's for one-time projects. It does allow us to do more in these areas.
“So while we have a funding shortfall in our courts budget, which must come from taxpayers, we will be able to do more in some other areas of policing without impacting property taxpayers," he added.
The Court Security and Prisoner Transportation Grant provides $125 million in funding to support municipalities offset some of the costs associated with courthouse safety and prisoner transportation.
Leon said the local funding will be used for projects often not seen by the public.
“People need to realize that our courthouses are very busy locations,” he said. “There are a lot of people that come and go, through different doors, on a daily basis. Anyone who enters into that facility, for whatever purpose, it is important that their safety is never compromised.
"There are many areas of the building that need improved security, and not all of them are seen out in the open," Leon added.