HRP digs down for $5.5-mil­lion in cuts

The Chronicle Herald (Provincial) - - NEWS - FRAN­CIS CAMP­BELL fcamp­bell@her­ald.ca @frankscrib­bler

Hal­i­fax Re­gional Po­lice will have to shave its 2020-21 op­er­at­ing bud­get by just over six per cent, or $5.5 mil­lion, but the po­lice chief says the im­me­di­ate safety and se­cu­rity of res­i­dents will not be com­pro­mised.

“Cer­tainly from an emer­gency re­sponse per­spec­tive, we will al­ways con­tinue to re­spond to those 911 calls,” Chief Dan Kin­sella told a vir­tual po­lice com­mis­sion meet­ing Mon­day.

“They are the most im­por­tant. 911 calls are pri­or­i­tized, threats to life are the high­est, that we re­spond in the quick­est man­ner and we will con­tinue to do that.

“Our pa­trol re­sponse is fully func­tional, fully staffed.”

Kin­sella said salaries and ben­e­fits make up 97 per cent of HRP’S op­er­at­ing bud­get. Sub­se­quently, a $5.5-mil­lion bud­getary sub­trac­tion has to re­sult in fewer per­son­nel.

Kin­sella said 18 va­cant po­si­tions will not be filled and 10 em­ploy­ees who ex­pect to re­tire be­tween now and Septem­ber will not be re­placed. Seven­teen of those 28 un­filled po­si­tions will be sworn mem­bers and the re­main­ing 11 are civil­ian mem­bers.

“That’s 28 po­si­tions that are not filled,” Kin­sella said. “I think it’s self-ev­i­dent that there is some work that isn’t be­ing done. My job is to en­sure that I re­spond to the pri­or­ity is­sues and then cover the other ar­eas where I can and con­tinue to do that with the staffing that we have.”

The po­lice de­part­ment had in Jan­uary pre­sented an op­er­at­ing bud­get of $89,777,000 for 2020-21 that was ap­proved in prin­ci­ple. With Hal­i­fax Re­gional Mu­nic­i­pal­ity ba­si­cally bleed­ing lost rev­enues, all 12 busi­ness units were asked to re­cast their op­er­at­ing fore­casts and re­gional coun­cil over the next cou­ple of weeks will ham­mer out a new op­er­at­ing bud­get.

“We ef­fec­tively have about an $85.4-mil­lion bud­get gap that we are try­ing to ad­dress,” Jac­ques Dube, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s chief ad­min­is­tra­tive officer told the com­mis­sion.

“When this COVID-19 arose we knew that we were go­ing to be chal­lenged with rev­enue costs, so all of the busi­ness unit di­rec­tors were asked to re­visit their bud­gets. They were pro­vided with new bud­get tar­gets. Those bud­get tar­gets rep­re­sented around $5 mil­lion for po­lice.”

Dube said the ini­tial re­vi­sion was much more ag­gres­sive but in­volved per­ma­nent lay­offs in each busi­ness unit. In that first draft, the po­lice de­part­ment was asked to cut its bud­get by $10 mil­lion or 12 per cent.

“We took that off the ta­ble af­ter con­ver­sa­tions with di­rec­tors,” Dube said.

The CAO said the re­cast bud­get is just a tem­po­rary mea­sure.

“We hope that within two to three years, the fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion of the mu­nic­i­pal­ity will bounce back,” Dube said. “When I say two to three years, that’s a guess. We will never re­turn to our PRE-COVID-19 way of do­ing busi­ness, whether it is within HRM as an or­ga­ni­za­tion or any other or­ga­ni­za­tion."

Dube and Jane Fraser, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s chief fi­nan­cial officer, pegged HRM’S cash-flow deficit at $188 mil­lion and a need to cut the ap­proved-in-prin­ci­ple bud­get by $85.4 mil­lion.

“As we move into the Oc­to­ber billing we don’t know how many peo­ple are go­ing to be able to pay their taxes,” Dube said. “The $188 mil­lion was based on an as­sess­ment of who would be able to pay their taxes and who wouldn’t.

“We are also set­ting this bud­get year up to ad­dress fu­ture years as a pre­cur­sor to what’s go­ing to hap­pen next year. I can as­sure all of you with cer­tainty right now that next year will be worse than this year. Why, be­cause the com­mer­cial tax base, which is based on in­come, and the in­come that they ex­pe­ri­ence this year will have a di­rect, neg­a­tive ef­fect on the tax base or tax roll next year.”

Fraser said $44 mil­lion of the bud­get gap of $85.4 mil­lion is lost rev­enue, “money that does not come back.”

Of that $44 mil­lion, nearly $20 mil­lion is cal­cu­lated to come from lost transit fares since the ser­vice was deemed an es­sen­tial ser­vice by the prov­ince dur­ing its state of emer­gency and transit fares were elim­i­nated. Hal­i­fax Transit’s lost fares amount to $3 mil­lion per month.

“Even when we start to col­lect rev­enue on bus fares, it will not be back to PRECOVID lev­els,” Fraser said, es­ti­mat­ing 55 per cent of the bud­geted fare col­lec­tion for the fis­cal year will be lost.

Fraser said recre­ation fees that are not col­lected for can­celled spring and sum­mer pro­gram­ming amounts to $5.7 mil­lion and the deed trans­fer tax, in which the mu­nic­i­pal­ity col­lects 1.5 per cent of the pur­chase price of each prop­erty sold, will come in at $7.5 mil­lion loss for the bud­get year.

In­ter­est in­come, sus­pended park­ing fees and other rev­enue streams make up the re­main­der of the $44-mil­lion pro­jected loss.

The mu­nic­i­pal­ity has said that 82 per cent of its rev­enue comes from prop­erty tax pay­ments, yet the in­terim pay­ment date for tax pay­ments has been deferred from April 30 to June 1. Fraser said about half the tax­pay­ers have made their in­terim pay­ment but big com­mer­cial ac­counts have not been paid.

The prov­ince has pro­vided a $380-mil­lion emer­gency op­er­at­ing loan pro­gram for mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. HRM’S num­ber that can be bor­rowed is $188 mil­lion, Fraser said.

“If we take the full $188 mil­lion in a loan from the prov­ince, we have to pay that back over three years,” she said. “The six-month cost of that is $31 mil­lion. My rec­om­men­da­tion is that we would book that and have that money set aside to ease the bur­den on 2021-22.”

Kin­sella said just over $4 mil­lion of his bud­get cut was ar­rived at through va­cancy man­age­ment and the other $1.49 mil­lion comes from non-com­pen­sa­tion re­duc­tions that in­clude con­tracted and ex­ter­nal ser­vices, po­lice equip­ment and com­mu­ni­ca­tion and of­fice equip­ment and sup­plies.

“We were able to do this with­out any lay­offs,” Kin­sella said. “We started with our va­cancy man­age­ment and then in the non-com­pen­sa­tion ar­eas, where we can make re­duc­tions and still de­liver ef­fec­tive and ad­e­quate polic­ing.”

The mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s por­tion of the RCMP bud­get, which was pegged at $26,869,600, has not changed. The RCMP cov­ers most of the ru­ral ar­eas of HRM.

The com­mis­sion voted 4-3 for a rec­om­men­da­tion to have Kin­sella con­sult with the union that rep­re­sents the force’s of­fi­cers and to have a fi­nal­ized bud­get, which could look ex­actly what he pre­sented Mon­day, ready to go to re­gional coun­cil by May 19.

Re­cast­ing the op­er­at­ing bud­gets of the other mu­nic­i­pal busi­ness units kicks into gear Tues­day and Wed­nes­day.

“All busi­ness units have been asked to share in the pain go­ing for­ward,” said Fraser, ex­plain­ing that dif­fer­ent re­duc­tions were asked of each unit in ac­cor­dance with its line of busi­ness.

We will never re­turn to our PRE-COVID-19 way of do­ing busi­ness, whether it is within HRM as an or­ga­ni­za­tion or any other or­ga­ni­za­tion. Jac­ques Dube HRM chief ad­min­is­tra­tive officer

FRAN­CIS CAMP­BELL • THE CHRON­I­CLE HER­ALD

Hal­i­fax Po­lice Chief Dan Kin­sella and Natalie Bor­den, chair­woman of the Hal­i­fax po­lice com­mis­sion, confer at a com­mis­sion meet­ing at city hall last year.

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