City of Vancouver report recommends $3.1 million cut to policing

$3.1M police cut eyed

Vancouver city council will consider an operating budget for 2021 that will be $17.1 million less than this year’s budget and require departments including police to hold vacancies or reduce staff until revenues return to pre-pandemic levels.

The $1.6 billion draft budget, which council will review next month, is based on a five per cent property tax increase and requires the city to dip into $57 million in reserve funds normally used for snow removal and storm cleanup.

"This is not a sustainable financial model, and if revenues do not return to pre-COVID levels in 2022, significant service reductions would be required to balance the city’s operating budget," said city manager Sadhu Johnston in remarks attached to budget documents released Tuesday.

A staff report recommends the Vancouver Police Department see a reduction of $3.1 million, or one per cent, the implementation of which to be at the discretion of the Vancouver Police Board.

That cut could mean holding vacancies or reducing staff.

At the same time, the report recommends a $4.5 million increase over the police’s 2020 budget amounts for compensation connected to fixed costs for existing staff related to collective agreements, “including annualization of the budget for 2020 new hires and step/rank increases for existing staff.”

The report notes a request by Johnston earlier this year to reduce the police budget to offset city-wide revenue loss was not met.

“The VPD and the Vancouver Police Board did not agree with or support this vacancies approach and will work toward reversing the imposed reduction, as it will have negative impacts on existing staff and service levels, such as creating longer response times and employee burnout,” the report said.

The city’s revenues have been hit hard by the pandemic, with staff projecting in May a shortfall of $136 million. That dire financial picture led to temporary layoffs of more than 1,800 workers and all non-unionized staff put on mandatory furlough, which was equivalent to a 10 per cent pay cut.

Annual inflationary increases were delayed or cancelled for staff. Mayor Kennedy Stewart and councillors also took 10 per cent pay cuts. Community centres and other facilities, including libraries, were closed.

Parking enforcement, which generates up to $100 million per year in revenue, was temporarily suspended until activated again at the end of April.

The city also spent $13 million on its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including support for housing, food, hygiene and other services for people and communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

City staff now say the shortfall has been reduced to $85 million.

The amount is despite the city recently receiving $16 million in funding from the provincial and federal governments to assist in recovery from the pandemic; the mayor had anticipated $60 million from governments.

“Given the city has restarted most of its public services and reopened most facilities, we will need to continue to manage costs closely,” Johnston said. “This will include all city departments maintaining staffing vacancies of between one to two per cent, which will, in turn, have service impacts in a number of areas.”

As for capital projects, Johnston said many were delayed this year and will flow into 2021 for completion. 

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