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Police chief hits up council for more money

Two other city budget meetings are planned for next month
20180628-Sault Ste. Marie Police Chief Hugh Stevenson-DT
Sault Ste. Marie Police Chief Hugh Stevenson. File photo by Darren Taylor/SooToday

Hours after announcing a record fentanyl bust on Monday, Sault Police Chief Hugh Stevenson was at city council, hustling for a 4.59 per cent increase in the police budget. 

City police have their own governance board, which prepares a budget that's often added with little questioning to the municipal tax levy.

But the city still has considerable say in the level of service provided, and last year's proposed 10.16 per cent increase in police spending was sent back to the local police services board for reconsideration.

This year, Chief Stevenson is angling for a more modest increase.

Defending his proposed 4.59 per cent budget hike for 2023, he pointed out that the city has experienced an 80 per cent increase in violent crime over the past five years.

Last year alone, we had four homicides, four attempted homicides, one kidnapping and 36 arsons.

All that, plus the rising cost of crime-fighting.

"Overall, our salary budget has increased by 5.3 per cent," Stevenson said, quickly adding that number isn't due to salary increases, just to growth in his approved complement of officers.

Stevenson has 142 sworn officers serving and protecting the people of Sault Ste. Marie.

He told Mayor Matthew Shoemaker and councillors that 9.9 per cent of his officers are currently on leave and an additional 5.6 per cent are being accommodated for various reasons and can't respond to 911 calls.

In terms of police officers on leave, Sault Ste. Marie is doing better than many other places, Stevenson said.

"In fact, we're probably one of the best, in the north for sure."

Still, the chief said, the leave issue is causing unprecedented overtime in excess of his budget.

Meanwhile, officers are turning down overtime because of burnout, and downtown businesses are demanding a greater police presence on Queen Street.

And, 19 officers are forecast for retirement over the next two to three years.

"Those folks are eligible for retirement. Doesn't mean they'll leave, but they can. So we have to prepare for their absence."

Stevenson says the 4.59 per cent he's looking for is reasonable.

Timmins Police want 4.89 per cent.

Their counterparts in Sudbury are demanding 5.66 per cent.

Thunder Bay cops think they're worth 7.2 per cent.

Over the past 12 months, Canada's consumer price index has shot up 6.3 per cent.

"As we all know, the consumer price index hasn't been good to anyone this year," Stevenson said.

Meanwhile, Ward 2 Coun. Lisa Vezeau Allen was critical Monday of a grossly distorted media article that implied a decision has already been made to replace the police headquarters building on Second Line.

The article quoted from one line in the proposed police budget calling for $110,000 to be used "to start a reserve fund account for future build," ignoring that the very same line also stated the money could be used "for a facilities assessment" on the existing building.

"It's not like we're building a new building. That has not been determined at all," said Vezeau Allen, a member of the local police services board.

"It is part of a reserve fund that will be used for consultations, studies."

"Not that we decide, one person decides, but it has to be very much a thoughtful approach as to what is the best fit for Sault Ste. Marie," said Vezeau Allen, speaking via video connection from the Rural Ontario Municipal Association annual meeting in Toronto.

Chief Stevenson, Mayor Shoemaker and chief administrative officer Malcolm White all agreed that no decision has been reached about building a new police headquarters.

"We are a long piece from looking at a new building. This is about assessing where we are today and where we're going to be in 15 years," Stevenson said.

Two other city budget meetings are planned on Monday, Feb. 13 and Tuesday, Feb. 14.

David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans seven decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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