Farnworth scolds Victoria in police budget dispute

B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth expressed disappointment Monday that his ministry is once again having to resolve a budget dispute between the Victoria and Esquimalt councils and their police board.

For the second year in a row, the police board has asked the province’s police-services division to overrule the councils and authorize the hiring of additional officers.

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The board won a similar case in February when the acting director of police services ordered the two councils to hire the six officers that were turned down in 2018.

Farnworth said Monday that his director of police services is looking at the board’s latest request and there will be a response in due course.

He said there is an agreement that when they can’t resolve a dispute, “it goes to director of police services and then to me.”

“It’s unfortunate it has to go to this,” he said. “We’d prefer that it be decided among the parties.

“I know that one of the parties seems to want to spend more time debating 50% pay increases, and perhaps if they spent more time with the police, we wouldn’t quite find ourselves in these issues all the time.”

Victoria council is currently conducting an online budget survey that asks respondents whether they would support increasing councillors’ salaries by more than 50%, to $70,100 annually.

Victoria Police Chief Del Manak said last week that the board has asked the province to authorize four positions that were turned down this year. The positions include a civilian research analyst, a cyber-crimes investigator and two officers assigned as a pilot project to the integrated teams that help people with mental-health problems.

Esquimalt council agreed to pay for two of the four positions, but Victoria council declined to support any of them.

Sean Powell, who chairs the police board’s finance committee, said the board applied to the police services division because it believes the additional officers are necessary to maintain public safety.

“If we’re not getting those pieces in place, this is our recourse to do so, or at least apply to do so,” he said. “It’s something that we did in 2018 and here, again, we are for the 2019 budget as well.”

That said, Powell said the board has tweaked its 2020 budget process with both councils in an effort to be more transparent and collaborative.

“We’ve had a great process,” he said. “The staff of both councils have been more involved than they have in the past.

“I’m really happy with the process and I’m actually optimistic about the budget that we’ve put forward to the Victoria council in trying to meet their needs as well.

“We understand that they have financial needs that they have to meet as part of a larger budget, so I’m really in a positive place about the budget process itself.”

Manak and Powell appeared before council on Friday to request a 4.43 per cent budget lift for 2020. If it’s approved, the police operating budget would increase by about $2.5 million to $58.2 million.

The 2020 provisional budget doesn’t add any sworn officers, but it does seek approval to hire four unarmed special constables as part of a pilot project to ease the department’s workload.

lkines@timescolonist.com

— With a file from Les Leyne

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