Tax bills should highlight police costs

staff: Law enforcement consumes 11% of city budget this year

Ken Gray
The Ottawa Citizen

The cost of policing is increasing so fast, city staff is asking council to show funding for Ottawa Police Services separately on municipal tax bills.

A report to be submitted to corporate services committee today shows the police budget has jumped 26 per cent since 2000, while the rest of the city budget has risen 15 per cent.

"Forecasted increases in police budget requirements will continue to be significantly higher than those of the rest of the municipal budget," the report said. "Therefore, council should consider separating the Ottawa Police Services tax rate on tax statements to ensure funding amounts in this area are transparent."

In 1995, police funding ate up 7.5 per cent of the property tax bill, the report said. In 2004, it was 11 per cent.

Councillor Herb Kreling, chairman of the Police Services Board, supported the separate tax bill listing.

"I have no problem with that at all," the Orleans councillor said. "We should be as transparent as we can."

He said police costs are often beyond administrators' control, with costs connected to growth, unforeseen investigations and incidents like last summer's electricity blackout.

Police salaries and benefits make up more than 90 per cent of the force's budget, he said.

While the board is responsible for salary negotiations, the police contract can go to mediation, and then arbitration, thus taking control of that process away from administrators, Mr. Kreling said.

The absence of local control is compounded by the lack of council input into the police budget, the report said.

Council cannot examine the specifics of the police budget, but the elected body can create the overall budget, the report said. But council is not the last court of appeal on even that.

"If the Police Services Board does not agree with the overall budget council has established, it has a right to appeal that decision to the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services," the document said.

The report, 2005 Budget Outlook, paints a mixed financial picture for next year. On one hand, it outlines increasing pressures on the city budget, including:

- Rising costs for supplies and services;

- Increases in shared provincial programs;

- The possibility of enhancing some services;

- Reversing some cuts from last year's budget;

- Increases in public service salaries.

Conversely, some relief is on the horizon for embattled property taxpayers. These include higher development charges and the new gas tax payment and federal GST rebate to cities, which will create revenue.

City manager Kent Kirkpatrick declined to project a figure for a tax increase next year, saying it was too early. He hopes to have an estimate by mid- to late-September. The 2004 increase was 2.9 per cent.

The report says new streams of revenue are needed to make the city financially viable.

"Even inflationary property tax increases and inflationary increases to fees and service charges will not meet future annual budgetary needs," the report said.

"In order to make the operating budget sustainable in 2005 and beyond, continued efficiencies will be required and other more flexible revenues need to be made available to the city to meet even its basic operating needs."

 The Ottawa Citizen 2004