A $1.9 million jump in officer salaries and benefits is helping pave the way for a 2.71 per cent increase in spending for the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service in the upcoming fiscal year.
The $31.2 million police budget for 2021 was approved unanimously by the police services board during a virtual budget meeting held Thursday.
“We recognize the cost of policing is getting significantly high, and we recognize that the labour costs are a big part of that. And we have work to do on that. The budget can’t go up 2.71 per cent year after year after year for labour costs, and have a tax base like ours which isn’t growing,” said Mayor Provenzano, addressing the public as chair of the police board. “So when the budget outpaces the growth of the tax base, the burden to the taxpayer becomes difficult to manage.”
Despite rising labour costs for Sault police, Provenzano remains adamant that taking funding away from policing - in line with what has been proposed locally as part of the broader ‘defund police’ movement - isn’t the answer.
“I have been very vocal in the public about not supporting the defund police movement, and I don’t. And I don’t, because I don’t think you can take 10 per cent from this budget without significantly impacting our ability to keep the community safe,” he told board members during Thursday’s budget meeting. “And the reality is, I acknowledge and recognize the challenges that we have in our community, and some of those challenges would be improved if we invested monies upstream - if we put more money into mental health and addiction. And we need to do that, as a community and as a province and as a country.”
The board chair says that challenges have become more “acute” for the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service over the past year.
“These are not easy jobs, and this is very difficult work – and this becomes more difficult work when you’re in a crisis. And our community is in a health crisis,” said Provenzano. “We have two of them, actually. We have the pandemic, but we also have the opioid crisis – and we haven’t received the supports, the assistance we need from the other orders of government to properly deal with that crisis – and that falls to, and impacts, police services.”
Consultation for new police headquarters scrapped
In other police budget news, a proposal to spend $75,000 on ‘facility consultation’ for a new police building in the Sault was ultimately scrapped by the police board, but its members agreed that a new headquarters for the police service is a topic worth another look in the future.
“There’s clearly large capital issues coming for us with this building, and likely a need for an in-depth look at the facility and its location,” said police board member Rick Webb. “It’s not just its physical ability to withstand continued use over the years, but also the standards - is it meeting any standards, modern standards of policing today, and in the next 15 to 20 years?”
The police services building was built in 1968.