Councillors are looking at changes that could lead to a lower Halifax Regional Police budget than recommended by the police board.

Halifax Regional Police are requesting a $5.4-million budget increase over last year’s budget, to $94.6 million. On top of that, Chief Dan Kinsella wants to hire three sworn officers and two civilians at a total cost of $627,700.

On Monday, the Board of Police Commissioners recommended in favour of the $5.4-million increase, mostly attributed to officers’ arbitrated pay increase. But the board voted no to Kinsella’s requests for additional staff.

Council’s budget committee met on Friday to consider the police budgets. Before hearing presentations from Kinsella and Halifax-district RCMP Chief Supt. Jeff Christie, councillors heard from eight speakers during public participation. Six of those people called on councillors to reject any increase in the police budget.

To start debate, Coun. Tony Mancini asked Kinsella about one of his proposed new positions: a police psychologist at $186,000.

Kinsella told councillors the psychologist wouldn’t replace outside services for individual officers.

“This particular request is to have a psychologist on staff to build trust with members to get out ahead of different things that might be occurring, to go on ride alongs, like many of you do here in the room, to understand individual officers’ impacts as they impact with the experiences that they have,” Kinsella said.

Coun. Tony Mancini speaks at a Halifax board of police commissioners meeting in January 2020. — Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

Mancini moved to add the psychologist to the committee’s budget adjustment list for consideration at the end of the budget process.

“I believe colleagues, as regional councillors, our role is to make sure all of our employees, we provide support resources when it comes to their mental health, but particularly our first responders,” Mancini said.

Coun. Tim Outhit said he’d support the psychologist, and another one of Kinsella’s requests, for an occupational health nurse at $136,400 — but not if they were only for the police.

“I really liked the idea of both the occupational health nurse position and the psychologist positions being added but I would like to have them so sort of HRM wide, if you will. I think that fire could take advantage of that,” Outhit said.

Coun. Lindell Smith said he opposed the addition to the budget at the Board of Police Commissioners, and he’d opposed it again. But he couldn’t say why unless the committee went in camera.

“There is an in camera aspect to this on why I don’t support it and I can’t speak to it publicly,” Smith said.

The committee went in camera for nearly an hour and a half to talk about the proposal.

After the in camera session, with no further public debate, council voted unanimously in favour of adding both the psychologist and occupational health nurse to the budget adjustment list.

That doesn’t mean councillors have added those positions to the budget yet. They will debate those additions later in the budget process, when they typically finalize the tax rate.

Possible police budget reductions, but not savings

The rest of council’s proposed changes to the budget sought to reduce it, but not reduce the municipality’s overall budget.

Coun. Waye Mason moved for a briefing note, to be considered during the budget adjustment list debate, on removing crossing guards from the police budget.

Halifax Regional Police manage those unionized crossing guards, with a budget line of $1.7 million in 2022-2023. But Mason said it doesn’t make sense to have them under the police budget.

“It’s not a police issue, it’s a public safety issue. It should be on our side,” Mason said.

That motion passed.

Coun. Pam Lovelace made a similar motion for a briefing note on moving victim services out of the police budget. That line item was $269,800 in 2022-2023.

“The defunding report clearly indicated that, through the group RAINN, it’s mentioned, Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, has said that those victims do not want to be working with police to receive victim services,” Lovelace said.

Both changes would appear to be lateral budget moves, but other councillors warned there could be associated administrative costs for HRM. Staff said those details will be answered in the briefing notes.

Likewise, Deputy Mayor Sam Austin proposed moving lake patrol out of Halifax Regional Police. HRP proposed cutting that service, valued at $83,600, as one of its items on HRM’s list of proposed budget cuts.

Austin said that contracted-out service has saved more than 1,000 people in the lakes in Dartmouth. He said it doesn’t make sense for that to be under police, much like crossing guards.

That motion passed too.

And lastly, Coun. Becky Kent, chair of the Board of Police Commissioners, moved HRP’s other proposed budget reduction. That reduction is a $153,900 revenue increase by raising an administrative fee on extra-duty from 3% to 10%. That administrative fee is payable by organizations who contract uniformed officers for security or events.

That would include Superstore hiring cops to guard bread. But it also includes community groups who need officers to close down streets for events.

Coun. Patty Cuttell argued the fee should be lower for the latter. Councillors amended the motion to ask staff to look into a tiered rate to give non-profits a discount.

With so many changes possible, councillors voted to defer the vote on the HRP budget until they’ve debated the budget adjustment list. That debate is scheduled for late March.

Four new RCMP officers on the table

Councillors also debated a proposed increase in the number of RCMP officers in HRM.

Halifax-district RCMP want to add 16 new officers to the existing complement of 183 over the next three years. In 2023-2024, that would mean $716,208 to add four officers.

The Mounties argue growth in the complement hasn’t kept pace with growth in the population of rural and suburban HRM.

The Board of Police Commissioners recommended in favour of that request.

Councillors voted to add it to the budget adjustment list, but not before a roundabout debate over whether rural and suburban areas of the municipality are adequately-policed.

The total proposed Halifax-district RCMP budget for 2023-2024 has yet to be made public. That figure is determined through negotiations between the federal and provincial governments. HRM gets a bill when it’s all said and done.

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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