North Huron budget approval on hold - May 10, 2018
BY DENNY SCOTT
Some confusion regarding the addition of a sergeant to the Wingham Police Service has derailed the passing of North Huron’s 2018 budget Monday night.
The budget was set for approval during council’s Monday night meeting, however several members of council felt that the increase in the Wingham Police Services budget was not received early enough to be passed.
The Wingham Police Services budget was presented at council’s last meeting in April, and, according to estimates from Wingham Councillor and Police Services Board Chair Trevor Seip, the total cost of adding four new officers, a number discussed at the public meeting, as well as a new sergeant to oversee the new officers, will cost $700,000 annually. This year, however, there is an increase of more than $400,000 as new officers would only be present for half a year.
The remainder of the increase comes from capital costs and a wage increase for existing officers.
Some members of council, however, weren’t ready to pass the budget, saying the fifth officer was added without enough notice.
Councillors said they disagreed that the sergeant or increase was a surprise, but did ask for the budget to be sent back for review.
Council approved a motion sending the budget back, however Seip was frustrated with the decision and said if council was going to request changes, it should provide a target figure for the board.
After lengthy debate, council was unable to point at a specific number, however Councillor Bill Knott suggested that Seip ask if the new hires could be phased in over 12 or 18 months to help offset some of the costs.
Next year, a 12-member police force with wages on par to other services in the area will be installed for the first full year including a 4.5 per cent increase in salary for existing officers this year and another four per cent increase next year.
Director of Finance Donna White explained that without the police budget, the rest of the budget could not be passed and taxation rates could not be set. She also explained that council was testing the limits of time for passing the budget, saying that pre-budget approvals would be necessary as a result of the decision.
Council decided to have any changes to the police services budget brought back to the May 22 council meeting to allow the budget as a whole to be passed there.
The budget, as it was presented, includes an 18.15 per cent increase in spending over 2017, most of which will be borne by the Wingham ward due to increases to its police service.
Councillor Trevor Seip has notified council that he will be requesting a review of the policing in Blyth and East Wawanosh with a goal of considering expanding the Wingham Police Service.
Seip, aware of several ratepayers decrying the idea during recent public meetings about the Wingham Police Service, said he wasn’t interested in making Blyth or East Wawanosh residents pay more.
Instead, Seip explained he was interested in seeing what level of service could be obtained through taking what Blyth and East Wawanosh pay now, approximately $380,000, and applying that to the Wingham Police Service which is in the midst of a significant personnel expansion.
Seip said he knows any increase in price would not be accepted, but said he thought ratepayers may be interested in keeping their police service dollars local.
He said this way, council could consider funnelling that $380,000 to locally-employed police officers instead of paying the province. He cited shop local initiatives as an example of such a move.
Councillor Ray Hallahan said he had asked ratepayers about that specific question, and said they weren’t interested in the service, regardless of the cost.
Reeve Neil Vincent cut the discussion short, saying Seip was allowed to explain his motion, however any debate would need to wait for council’s May 22 meeting when the motion to have staff investigate the possible change will be made.