By Trevor Busch
While coming as a surprise to the local law enforcement community, town council’s $150,000 cut to the 2016 police budget will have the Taber Police Service adjusting to a changed reality in 2016.
At their Dec. 21 meeting, council voted 5-2 against rescinding its Dec. 7 motion to reduce the Taber Municipal Police Commission’s (Taber Police Service) 2016 total budget by $150,000. Coun.(s) Randy Sparks and Laura Ross-Giroux voted in opposition to the motion.
“The cut of $150,000 from the police budget creates a turning point for the Taber Police Service,” said Chief Alf Rudd, in a statement following the meeting. “Going forward will require solutions beyond what can be realized by scaling back on operational expenditures which are already carefully doled out. As I see it there are two directions that can be taken. Deciding on which of these two directions to take relies on whether we seek a long-term stable solution or a more precarious year-to-year scheme.”
Rudd indicated any stable solution would require restructuring the organization with the number of officers tailored to the amount of budget made available, and then adapting service levels that can realistically be provided in the new world of fewer officers.
“A year-to-year scheme would involve no or minimal changes to structure and an increase in revenues to make up for the shortfall,” said Rudd.
“The only revenue stream that can be leveraged are fine proceeds generated through enforcement. TPS will also seek business opportunities, but normally police services are not in business to be in business and this is not a very realistic path.”
Scenarios to deal with the cut put forward by Taber Municipal Police Commission chair Ken Holst at an emergency meeting following the Dec. 7 decision by council looked at the possibility of staff reductions, potential efficiencies due to management changes at the service, or opportunity to attempt to fully fund the shortfall through fine revenues or other revenue streams.
“A tough decision is required and there may be other solutions or a combination of what I have discussed,” said Rudd. “This is yet to be determined. I have every confidence that this will be resolved and whatever the other side of it brings will ensure that the safety of Taber is paramount. I can assure all that every effort will be made to continue providing the same excellent level of service that has made me proud to be part of TPS. Individual officers are committed and loyal to the security of the town and Taber can rely on that.”
As originally tabled, the 2016 net budget (before a council-mandated $150,000 reduction) for the Taber Police Service rang in at $2,164,350, up $81,745 over 2015 ($2,082,605), for an increase of 3.93 per cent. Total revenues for 2016 are estimated at $1,113,412, up from $1,083,750 in 2015. Total expenditures for 2016 are expected to be $3,277,762, up from $3,166,355 in 2015.
By far the largest proportion of the previous figure is made up of salaries, wages and benefits, estimated to top out at $2,636,233.
Rudd laid out his perception of the need for a separation of political influence to prevent undue impacts on law enforcement operations.
“The Police Act sets a framework to distance political influence from the enforcement of the law by establishing a commission made up of community members imbued with governing powers. Politicians then are best advised not to trifle with matters of public safety. Applying that same wisdom to the office of the chief of police requires that I not engage in the politics but abide by the intended ethics.”
Differences between the Taber Police Service’s financial analysis of total costs of their own operations and a recent provincial report (Cost Review of Alberta Municipal Police, issued by Alberta Justice and Solicitor General and detailing the costs per municipality of policing in Alberta for 50 municipalities) which shows significantly higher numbers than those provided by TPS, are easily explainable according to Rudd.
“The difference in numbers is simply based on net versus gross. We prefer to do our calculations after revenues which is smart business and actual business.”
Set to officially retire in February, Rudd was mindful of the fine line walked by representative bodies with regard to overall finances and an eye towards fiscal responsibility.
“As has become apparent through public accounts of this process, I have chosen to retire after a 45 year career in policing. My plans are to remain in Taber and continue to contribute to those causes which I have been involved in for the past seven years. That we live in a democracy and are free to be heard emphasizes my respect for the civil and agreeable conduct of our administration and elected council during deliberation and dialogue that was difficult for both views represented.”