Police budget, town staffing come up at April 15 budget session


Aburg Police Logo Rev-webBy Ron Giofu


While town council is still wrestling with its 2014 budget, the topics of the police budget and town staffing became hot topics at an April 15 budget session.

Chief Tim Berthiaume was questioned over Amherstburg police’s 4.5 per cent increase with Berthiaume saying there is little to no control over the increased expenditures. Items that went up included WSIB Premiums (over $20,000), OMERS (almost $30,000), wages ($127,000) and a transfer to capital reserves of 50,000.

“These are rough numbers,” said Berthiaume.

Berthiaume noted that since he became chief in 2010, he has looked for ways to cut costs and find efficiencies within the service. He said that one administrative staff has been eliminated and that the staff sergeant position has also been eliminated, the latter saving $30,000 per year.

“We’re one of few services that has such a compact structure,” the chief said.

Amherstburg police’s vehicle fleet has seen its life-span double, he added, and that the vehicle must outlive its usefulness before it is replaced.

“We wait until it’s too costly to repair the vehicle before we replace it,” said Berthiaume.

The police service also shares the special constable position with LaSalle, he said.

The $4.5 million increase is to “simply maintain what we already have,” he added.

“We’ve cut just about everywhere we could cut.”

Asked about the new electronic fingerprinting machine that Amherstburg police has budgeted for, Berthiaume said all fingerprints eventually are banked with the RCMP with the latter no longer accepting paper copies as of this summer. All police departments across Canada are facing this issue, said Berthiaume.

Tasers are being purchased, he acknowledged, but not every officer will have one. Berthiaume said tasers are a valuable use-of-force option and said the plan is to have one in the six patrols cars.

“If they need the use-of-force option, they need it right then,” he added, in response to questions over whether the program could be phased in. He said all officers do have to be trained in how to use tasers and that no grants are available in covering their costs.

Councillor John Sutton, who sits on the Amherstburg Police Services Board (APSB), said policing costs are rising everywhere due to “outlandish arbitration costs.” He also cited an “absolutely idiotic” regulation that officers under suspension still have to be paid while under suspension awaiting Police Service Act (PSA) hearings.

Body cameras, added Sutton, will help reduce costs of PSA hearings and will save police services such as Amherstburg’s money.

“It’s a preventative measure. It’s an investment,” said Sutton, adding that Amherstburg police has the second most cost effective police service in Ontario trailing only LaSalle police.

Councillor Diane Pouget asked if some police officers were also firefighters and whether they could take time away from their police duties to fight a fire. Berthiaume said police officers have to remain on duty if they receive a fire call while working.

“This is their primary occupation. That has been communicated to them very clearly,” said Berthiaume.

Later in budget deliberations, Pouget asked for further information on staffing and benefits. Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Mike Phipps acknowledged that around the same time the three senior staff members were terminated last year, there was also the equivalent of one full-time position added when “half positions” such as HR assistants and CAO assistants were bumped up to full-time positions.

Phipps believed the staffing issue, should council wish to delve deeper into it, would need its own separate meeting.

“Let’s either deal with staffing or not deal with staffing,” said Phipps. “We’ve got a lot of work before us.”

Phipps presentation that he gave to council Oct. 21, 2013 was also reviewed, with the CAO adding there were five positions that were proposed that were axed due to the town’s budget crisis.

“We cut them. They are gone,” he said.

Pouget wondered where the motion was to approve the staffing changes but Phipps countered that it is his job to deal with staffing within the organization.

“My understanding is I am the CAO, like it or not,” he said. “It is my responsibility to deal with positions in the organization.”

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