Halifax will use a new process to build the police budget for next year, giving council more control.
During its meeting on Tuesday, Halifax regional council approved a plan and schedule for the municipality’s fiscal 2023-2024 budget deliberations. Budget committee meetings will start next month, with the final budget approval scheduled for April 25, 2023.
Part of that process is the approval of the Halifax Regional Police budget. The police budget process starts at the Board of Police Commissioners, where the chief makes a case for a new — and usually an increased — operating budget. The board recommends a budget to councillors, who are supposed to approve or deny the total figure.
Then there’s back and forth, where council sends the budget back to the board for revision. This past year, council eventually approved a 0.4% increase in March after months of back and forth with the board, which was recommending a larger 2.3% increase.
But for next year’s police budget, council will get involved earlier. Corporate planning manager Michael Pappas outlined the new two-step process in a report to council.
First, Chief Dan Kinsella will work with the municipal finance department to “prepare a staffing proposal” for the board’s review. That presentation is scheduled for Dec. 7. The board will recommend a staffing level, presumably a number of full-time equivalent positions, to council.
“Council would then decide on any changes to the staffing complement, which would facilitate the budget process,” Pappas wrote in the report.
With council’s approval of the staffing level, the board will then craft a total budget recommendation.
“Given that the decision on staffing will have already determined most proposals for budget increases, this should greatly reduce the potential for confusion, or the budget being returned to the BoPC,” Pappas wrote.
In an earlier information report to council, Pappas wrote that the board will meet Nov. 2 for municipal staff “to provide an overview of this report and answer any questions BoPC might have relative to their authority under the Police Act.”
That report indicates there’ll be public consultation on the police budget both at the board (which held a public hearing on the budget for the first time last year) and at budget committee.
Board sought more control, not less
The board asked for the report in March with a motion from Commissioner Harry Critchley. It voted for “a staff report for the purpose of developing an operational and capital budget review and approval process for the Halifax Regional Police, including public consultation and associated timelines, for the 2023/24 fiscal year in compliance with the Police Act.”
Critchley was hoping to get the board more control over HRP’s capital budget, which is typically reviewed and approved by council as part of the overall capital budget.
Pappas’ report notes “capital expenses should be part of the Budget reviewed by the BoPC and comes forward to Budget Committee, arguably, to be fully compliant with the Police Act.”
But it doesn’t look like the board will have any more control over the capital budget.
“When Finance brings the HRP operating budget to BoPC this year, this will also include the capital overview in order to provide a complete view of police-related municipal expenditures,” Pappas wrote.
That has happened in past years, most notably when HRP told the board it was buying an armoured vehicle. Council later cancelled the purchase.
In the rationale for Critchley’s motion, the commissioner explained why he was looking for a new budget process.
“Public confidence in the Board and its decision-making risks being undermined if there is a lack of clarity regarding the extent of the Board’s authority vis-à-vis the HRP budget, or if the process for budget review and approval prescribed under the Act is not followed,” Critchley wrote.
“Further, the current approach risks providing Regional Council with an undue degree of control over the HRP budget, which risks having the process become overly politicized.”
If anything, the municipality’s new approach gives council more control over the HRP budget.
RCMP budget process to change, too
The municipality is also looking to give council more control over the Halifax-district RCMP budget.
“For the RCMP, Council should have a direct role in determining the number of officers and supporting staff for the Halifax District, with the consequential budgetary implications,” Pappas wrote.
Halifax contracts the RCMP based on a price set by the provincial government. The provincial Department of Justice negotiates the budget with the RCMP. It then meets with the municipality’s chief financial officer in late October, per Pappas’ report, “to discuss budgetary pressures for the purposes of formulating a budget estimate.”
The municipality budgets for the figure, but keeps it confidential until the RCMP present to councillors, who rubber stamp it.
This year, Pappas suggests council and the board get more involved and follow the same process as proposed for HRP:
A similar process to that for the HRP could be followed for the RCMP, whereby the RCMP presents to the BoPC their staffing proposal for the following year, which the BoPC would review with the CAO and submit to Council. Council would then decide on the size of the staffing. Alternatively, the RCMP could present their staffing proposal directly to Council as there is no reference in the Police Act to BoPC involvement in the RCMP budgeting or staffing process. The costing that follows – reliant on the negotiations between the Province and the Federal Government, over which the Municipality has no control – would be determined according to the negotiated rate.
The latest report indicates staff worked with the Department of Justice and RCMP on the new process, but it’s unclear whether the two parties have actually agreed to the changes.
Chief financial officer Jerry Blackwood told councillors his budget meeting with the Department of Justice and the RCMP is scheduled for next week.
Both police forces are scheduled to appear before council’s budget committee on Feb. 1 and March 3, 2023.