By Tim Kalinowski on November 28, 2020.
The Finance Committee ended its week of budget deliberations by recommending the full allocation of almost $3 million in supplemental funding to the Lethbridge Police Service for the Community Peace Officer program, The Watch and the Police and Crisis Team (PACT) for the next two years.
There was some concern voiced by Councillors Blaine Hyggen, Ryan Parker and Joe Mauro that with a $1-million reduction in base funding to the police service passed by the committee on Tuesday it might mean the Police Commission, and the department, might choose to claw back that reduction from the funding provided for these programs.
City council funds the overall police budget, but it is the Lethbridge Police Commission, in co-ordination with the Chief of Police, which decides the service’s budget priorities and how the police service will spend the funding allotted, and on what.
The motion to allocate the funding was originally tabled until Dec. 14 as Parker and others had sought more clarity from the commission, which meets next Tuesday, on that point.
However, after a lunch break, the Finance Committee reversed the tabling decision after it was explained by City Treasurer Hailey Pinksen that withholding the funding until after the police commission met likely would not bring any further clarity to the issue because commissioners would not be able to provide an answer to Parker’s concerns without some budget certainty from council.
Committee members then proceeded to approve each allocation in turn. The CPO allocation passed by a vote of 8-1, with Mauro opposed. The Watch allocation passed by a vote of 7-2, with Belinda Crowson and Mauro opposed. The PACT allocation passed by a vote of 8-1, with Mauro opposed.
Deputy Mayor Rob Miyashiro, who chairs the Finance Committee, acknowledged city council could not dictate to the police department how the money provided by taxpayers was spent. That is why, he explained, the committee had passed a broad $1-million funding cut to the service which it would have to weigh against its own operational priorities.
“As with every other group we asked to (propose) cuts, the police had in our (budget) binder about $3 to $4 million in cuts that was possible,” he said. “We looked at that, and the discussion we had the other day was, ‘Wait a second, we don’t control line items in the police budget. We control the block funding.’ So when we said, ‘OK, all of those things being considered, we are going to say it’s $1 million less, and the police can deal with it.’ We are not micro-managing the police. It goes to the police commission, and they deal with it and they can figure out what is going to work best.”
However, Miyashiro emphasized, he couldn’t imagine a situation where the police commission or the Chief of Police would simply disregard the publicly stated intentions, and wishes, of city council in allocating the money received for the CPOs, The Watch and the PACT program.
“We looked at those three initiatives as having some real value,” he said. “They are non-core police programs, but they are a creative way to help the community through the police department. Now that we have funded them is it likely they are not going to fund those (through their police budget)? Well, they could, but it is not likely. They would set a dangerous precedent next time they want some special projects or special operations funded when they come to council at budget.”
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