Halifax Regional Police chief Dan Kinsella is being asked to trim his operating budget significantly to offset the costs that COVID-19 is incurring for the city’s finances.
Kinsella presented his plan to cut $5.5 million in spending to the police board of commissioners during a special virtual meeting held Monday afternoon.
Kinsella said the cuts will create gaps inside the police service, but will not affect public safety.
“My job is to ensure the most priority work is getting done and I will always do that to make sure we are responding,” said Kinsella.
The Halifax Regional Municipality is looking to cut $85 million in spending and is asking various business units, like police, fire, public works, and other departments, to find cost savings in light of the COVID-19 pandemic which is wreaking havoc on HRM’s revenue stream.
A staff report estimates the municipality will lose $44 million in revenue this year, with $20 million in revenue loss coming from the transit system alone which hasn’t been accepting fares since the pandemic broke out in Nova Scotia in late March.
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Kinsella says the police department will shed the majority of the $5.5 million through salary cuts.
There are no layoffs but 18 staff vacancies won’t be filled, which includes nine civilian and nine sworn officer positions.
There’s also 10 retirements slated for this year that won’t be refilled, either, while overtime and court duties will be slashed by 25 per cent.
Kinsella calls the cuts a short-term sacrifice for a situation that’s consistently changing.
“We are in a situation of severe financial constraints that we don’t know how long will last and we will have to continue to work with the environment that we have,” said Kinsella.
While the pandemic has closed schools for the remainder of the school year, all crossing guards have been laid off.
In all, Kinsella said these proposed cuts won’t affect front-line calls for service or jeopardize investigations.
Councillor and police board commissioner Tony Mancini made a motion to defer a decision on the police budget cuts, to allow Kinsella time to consult with the police association and union before the board of commissioners made its final motion and recommendation to council.
HRM lawyer Marty Ward warned that sets a precedent as unions aren’t usually a part of the negotiations during budget talks, but Mancini called it “unprecedented times” and said the union deserved some say.
“I think they (the police union) were introduced to it Friday or Saturday and here we are Monday, and we do have some time before the board of police commissioners recommendation goes to regional council,” said Mancini. “So I’m looking for that one more lens to look at it and have some conversations.
“It might come back in the same situation or condition as it’s in today, and that’s fine.”
Deputy Mayor Lisa Blackburn agreed with Mancini and voted in favour of consulting with the union regarding the budget cuts and felt it was the right move to make sure nothing was overlooked.
“With a normal budget cycle we wouldn’t be consulting with the union but these are not normal times,” said Blackburn. “Even though we don’t have a requirement to do this, we do have a requirement to get this right and certainly the union could be very helpful in pointing to something that has been left out.”
Council will begin further budget deliberations Tuesday when they look to cut $85 million in spending from the 2020-21 budget.
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