By J.W. Schnarr
Southern Alberta Newspapers – Lethbridge
Taber police are looking at an “unexpected” budget cut following a narrow decision by Taber council on the issue Monday.
Ken Holst, chair for the Taber Police Commission, said he and the rest of commission were surprised by council’s 4-3 decision, and that council had given no warning the cut could be coming prior to the preliminary budget meeting.
“It was a very unexpected turn,” he said. “We had presented our budget with absolutely no questions and no opposition to it prior. “To have the cut done out of the blue was very shocking.”
Holst said TPC will try to meet with council to see if the decision can’t be modified or reversed, and expressed the importance to impress upon council the need to restore the funding amount.
Taber Police Association president Cst. Dave Gyepesi noted his disappointment in a prepared statement.
“The Taber Police Association is disheartened and disappointed with the decision to reduce the 2016 Taber Police Service budget,” he indicated.
Taber Mayor Henk DeVlieger was the deciding vote in the decision, and while unable to comment on the specifics of the budget, he said from some of the changes he has seen recently, he believed the police could still do their jobs with a lower budget amount.
“I felt comfortable that they could do with that much less and still have the same police force,” he said.
The police budget for 2016 included projected revenues of $1,113,412 (including $411,250 in projected fines) and expenditures of $3,277,762, including $2,636,233 in salaries, wages and benefits. The net budget was $2,164,350, an increase over last year of $81,745 (3.93 per cent).
“That increase was solely wages,” Holst said. “We are contractually bound through CUPE with our comm ops people and through the police association with our police service wages. It’s really out of our control.”
He added the portion of the operational budget the commission is responsible for saw a reduction of $30,000 – making it the only department to show a decrease for the town this year, according to Holst.
The budget asked council to consider the true cost of policing compared to what was determined were “alarmist media claims” regarding increased costs.
In addition, a sustained economic downturn is often followed by an increase in crime.
“We are mindful that when economies slump, and there is less money, what is it that increases? That’s crime,” Holst said. “So we need to be aware of that as well, in order to protect our citizens properly.”
DeVlieger said council has to be mindful of the available money in the current economy.
“We have to be very prudent,” he said. “A lot of people have been taking wage cuts left and right, and things aren’t as rosy at the moment.”We have to try and make things work with less money, or at least try to prevent a big tax hike.”
“There is a lot of items in the budget that will have to be done different.”
DeVlieger added the job for council now was to make the town more economically creative as the amount of money available for projects is affected by economic downturn.
“In time of need, people can become a lot more creative when their money gets tight,” he said.
Holst said there is still time to change council’s mind before the budget numbers are finalized.
“The numbers, in my opinion, are definitely there, and show what is needed to sustain policing in this town,” he said. “I believe that council has done this in the best interest of the Town of Taber, and the tax line, but we want to make sure they are able to understand all the facts. I believe that once they do, that cut will be changed.”