Police force salaries will be one of the areas targeted for a cut as the city seeks to shave $200,000 in staffing costs from its 2014 budget.
City manager Scott Hildebrand says policing forms the largest chunk of the overall city budget, so it makes sense to look there for savings.
"Police is my biggest budget within the city budget, and it’s only fair that we look within police as well and that discussion has started," Hildebrand said in an interview on Thursday.
On Sunday, at the end of a long budget debate, city council approved a proposed 1.42 per cent tax increase.
During that debate, a proposal to slash $100,000 from the $14-million police budget didn’t go through.
However, council did direct that $200,000 overall be cut from city staff.
At the deliberations, Hildebrand indicated that a discussion into cutting salaries at the police department had already begun.
Under the Police Services Act, it’s the police board that submits a budget to city council and then allocates the funds provided by the city.
However, it’s council that has the final responsibility of setting the total police budget.
When it comes to the proposed cut to police staffing, the board has given authority to Brandon Police Service Chief Ian Grant to work with city administration to find savings.
"If the chief can find, you know, an extra $50,000 or $40,000, and it doesn’t impact operations or our strategic direction, we’ve already given him the latitude and authority to do that," police board chairman Mark Frison said.
Hildebrand said the issue will be discussed at next month’s police board meeting.
Hildebrand said council made it clear that factors such as overtime, retirements and attrition should be looked at before considering layoffs or cuts to front-line policing.
He said that’s the advice he intends to follow as he works with Grant and the police board. His priority is to avoid layoffs and permanent cuts.
"I think the comment was they don’t want boots off the street, they would prefer us to look internally and figure out what we can do first," Hildebrand said.
Council will give final approval to the city budget in April, and Hildebrand said decisions regarding savings need to be made within the next four weeks.
Just how much of the $200,000 to be trimmed from city staffing is to come from police force salaries hasn’t been specified.
While Hildebrand said there are a number of options when it comes to clipping police salaries, he said he’s not at liberty to share those options at the moment.
Both civilian and police salaries are to be considered.
Grant said even before budget deliberations began last weekend, about $120,000 in savings was found in the police budget. Frison said that was done without impact on operations or the force’s strategic plan.
The chief said that money was saved when a pair of officers recently retired. The force will hire replacements at a lower salary. In addition, one of the new hires will happen in May, which will make for more savings in the meantime.
That allowed the board to submit a police operating budget to the city that represented a 1.25 per cent increase over 2013. That proposed police budget didn’t include any increase to existing staff numbers.
Grant said his mandate as he seeks savings is to protect operations and the strategic plan, although it’s too early to say specifically how he’ll do that.
"It would be premature to say where it’s going to come from because we’re working through some options right now with city administration," Grant said.