Have you been following a fascinating discussion on these pages about whether Brandonites are well-served by the Brandon Police Service, particularly from a financial perspective?
On one side are two columnists, the Sun’s own managing editor James O’Connor and Deveryn Ross, the Brandon-based Winnipeg Free Press columnist.
On the other side stands Mark Frison, the president of Assiniboine Community College and chair of the Brandon Police Board.
The debate stems out of a column written by Ross in the Winnipeg Free Press. He posited that Brandon pays very healthy wages and benefits to our police service, particularly when compared to communities that employ the RCMP. He provided real world examples of similar communities including Red Deer, Alta., and Kelowna, B.C., that have hired the Mounties to provide police services. On a per capita basis, these communities pay far less than we do for their police services.
Ross did not question whether Brandon police were doing a good job or not. He did not assert our community was unsafe, nor did he suggest we needed to eliminate the Brandon Police Service. Rather, he suggested that the time was nigh for local politicians to ask whether the BPS was pricing itself out of business and if alternatives exist.
O’Connor agreed with and expanded upon the position Ross asserted. In other words, both columnists simply suggested that Brandonites, and their elected officials, should be asking questions about the value being received for the money we are paying. This seems like a reasonable suggestion.
In fact, our mayor and council need the support O’Connor and Ross have provided. The folks at city hall, particularly at the highest levels, have an obligation to ensure they are providing the greatest level of value possible to taxpayers. Their duty is first to all of the citizens they represent.
I think we all agree that the BPS does a fine job. Brandon is, for the most part, a very safe community. Chief Ian Grant and company appear to be working very hard for Brandonites.
For that, our police are very well paid. In fact, according to the research Ross provided, our police are paid comparably to Toronto and Vancouver police. With respect, I suspect policing in a community like Brandon is much safer and less demanding on the officers.
For those who wish to make this a discussion about our community’s safety, I suggest you stop playing that emotional card. I believe both the BPS and RCMP to be highly professional organizations. This is about what we can afford.
The BPS union has done a great job representing its members, but can we afford them?
Having watched debate discussions, I would like to see our mayor and council focus on the issue Ross and O’Connor introduced. The real issue here is not policing costs, but whether we are getting value for our government services tax dollar.
It applies to every line in the budget, not just policing. What about public works like sewer and water, snow removal, information technology, engineering, lawn cutting, etc?
We need to know our elected officials are doing their level best to keep taxes low while providing the core services we expect.
With respect to all concerned, I could care less whether I have the RCMP or the BPS working for me. I want to be safe and I believe both departments would be fine. The same is true of snow removal — just clear my street at the best price. I don’t care who drives the grader.
Ross’s research indicated that Brandonites could potentially save as much as $6 million annually if we had the same policing costs per capita as Kelowna. That’s a huge amount of money and would fix an awful lot of problems in our city. Can we ignore studying this potential tax-saving strategy? I think not.
If we can keep more money in the hands of working families and retirees, or get more things done with the same amount of money, then our mayor and council have done their job very well.
Ross and O’Connor have done our community a service in advancing this important debate, particularly in an election year.
» Kerry Auriat is a lifelong Brandon resident and a partner in a local brokerage firm.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 10, 2014