August 18, 2017

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Opinion

Tackle excessive police salaries

Three years.

That’s the amount of time the City of Brandon has before its next round of negotiations with the Brandon Police Service.

If recent history is any indication, city accountants should start girding for battle now. It’s the only way they would stand a chance.

Over at least the past decade, the police department has had no trouble getting handsome annual raises for its members. Last year, they got a 4.4 per cent raise in January, plus a top-up in July. This year, after an agreement passed at this week's city council meeting, police officers will have to manage to eke by with just three per cent.

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Three years.

That’s the amount of time the City of Brandon has before its next round of negotiations with the Brandon Police Service.

If recent history is any indication, city accountants should start girding for battle now. It’s the only way they would stand a chance.

Over at least the past decade, the police department has had no trouble getting handsome annual raises for its members. Last year, they got a 4.4 per cent raise in January, plus a top-up in July. This year, after an agreement passed at this week's city council meeting, police officers will have to manage to eke by with just three per cent.

Thanks to compounding, the average police salary will have increased by about 50 per cent in the past 10 years. According to the Bank of Canada, that’s more than triple the rate of inflation. In fact, by the time this new contract expires, the base wage for a first-class constable (basically, a beat cop with five years’ experience) will top $92,000.

That is, quite frankly, excessive in a town like Brandon.

No one questions that police can have a difficult job. But it is much easier here than in a place like Winnipeg (current comparable salary: $85,000) or Toronto ($86,000).

Police wages are coupled with gold-plated retirement plans (Freedom 55 an easy goal), generous vacation allowances and near-endless opportunity for overtime. It’s no surprise that more than a quarter of Brandon cops took home more than $100,000 in the most recent municipal compensation disclosure, from 2012.

Doubtless, even more of Brandon’s finest will soon qualify for six-figure salaries.

At root is an inability for any politician to appear soft on crime, but it’s far past time to get tough on how much it all costs.

We’ve grown tired of the excuse that Brandon has to “keep up” with how much other cities pay their cops. In fact, those other cities look to our inflated police salaries and are forced to raise their own in a never-ending game that has become a vicious, unaffordable cycle.

Not to mention it is a dismayingly mercenary way to look at why people might choose to live in Brandon.

Do we not have quality parks and schools? Is the commute not easier here? Is the crime rate not low — and dropping? Might people not want to live near their families and friends? To have a good balance between work and home?

Isn’t Brandon’s quality of life worth anything?

Do we really have to pay police officers as much money as they’d make fighting felons in Winnipeg or Toronto? Brandon may not be Mayberry, but neither are we Mogadishu.

At the most recent city budget deliberations, more than one councillor sounded like they were finally getting concerned about the ever-spiralling costs of protective services (we’re fearful to learn what the firefighters will squeeze us for in their pending contract).

We are disappointed that the proposed contract was presented as a fait accompli, without notice on the council agenda and with councillors reduced to a rubber stamp. However, we understand that the new police board somewhat ties their hands.

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, council continues to have final responsibility for the purse.

At the budget deliberations in January, council directed that $200,000 overall be cut from city staff. At that time, city manager Scott Hildebrand indicated that a discussion about salary cuts at the police department had already begun.

That task will be made a little more difficult now — and for the three years to come, now that raises are locked in through 2016.

We suggest those are the last raises that police should see for some while. It’s time to let taxpayers catch up.

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