It has now been one year since the Vancouver Police Board announced it would appeal a city council decision in December 2020 that resulted in the Vancouver Police Department operating on a budget last year that was $5.7 million less than requested.
As of Friday, B.C.’s director of police services Wayne Rideout had yet to deliver a decision.
The Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General told Glacier Media in November 2021 that the review was expected to be completed by January of this year.
The ministry would not explain this week the reason for the delay, or when a decision would be communicated to the police board.
All the ministry would confirm is that a consultant had completed the review and it was now up to Rideout to make a decision on the findings.
The board and city council are eagerly awaiting the decision, knowing the city's overall budget could be affected and translate to an additional property tax increase.
Faye Wightman, vice-chairperson of the police board, described the outstanding $5.7 million in an email Wednesday as a “rolling deficit” and that “not reinstating this amount to the VPD’s base budget would result in a recurring and unsustainable shortfall.”
Wightman’s statement comes after a year in which the VPD ran a deficit for the first time in 16 years. It was pegged at more than $7 million in September 2021, with Police Chief Adam Palmer and his deputy chiefs frequently pointing to the $5.7 million as the main reason for the deficit.
“If we wouldn’t have had the reductions to our budget, we would actually be in a good position right now,” Palmer told the police board at a meeting in September 2021.
'Look to increase taxes'
The city’s communications department told Glacier Media in December 2021 that the city’s overall budget for this year did not include a potential tax increase related to Rideout’s decision.
“If the director of police services approves the appeal, the city will have to fund it within existing budgets through service level reductions across departments and/or a one-time drawdown from reserves in 2022,” the city said in an email.
“Should the appeal be approved, the city would look to increase taxes in the 2023 budget to fund the ongoing impact of the budget appeal.”
The lead-up to the clash between the police board and council dates back to Nov. 30, 2020, when the board passed a provisional budget of $322 million for the department.
At the time, Palmer described the budget as a “status quo, keep the lights on” budget and said the request amounted to a two per cent increase that would be in line with what other police forces across Canada received.
Eight days after the police board meeting, a majority of council chose to instead approve a budget of $316 million, about $766,000 more than the 2020 budget but $5.7 million less than requested for 2021.
In March 2021, then-board vice-chairperson Barj Dhahan described council’s decision not to include the $5.7 million as a “cut.” Dhahan said the decision left the department unable to hire 61 new recruits.
“This will bring staffing levels below those of 2009, resulting in negative impacts to police response, proactive policing initiatives and community based programs, diversity through hiring, and the health and well-being of our members,” Dhahan said at the time.
“Council’s budget cut undermines the board’s independent governance role, and will negatively impact public safety, public confidence in policing, and member wellness for years to come.”
The move by the board to appeal is rare and may be unprecedented in Vancouver.
The appeal mechanism, as set out in the Police Act, was used most recently by the Victoria and Esquimalt police board.
The board successfully argued that six officers be included in the Victoria Police Department’s 2018 operating budget after Esquimalt council refused to pay for the costs.
In the most recent vote on the city's budget in December 2021, council approved the VPD’s budget request and was obligated to add $15.7 million in arbitrated wage increases for officers, bringing the total gross dollar amount to $366.9 million, before expenditures.
Which means the VPD is operating this year with a net budget of $341.5 million.
The city's overall operating budget for 2022 is worth $1.7 billion.