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Police budget jumps 8 per cent

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An $814,000 drop in provincial funding and a change in the City of Sault Ste. Marie’s accounting system are driving a nearly 8 per cent increase in the city police department’s 2020 budget.

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Sault Ste. Marie Police Services Board approved spending $27,539,146 for the coming fiscal year at a meeting on Sept. 26.

Most of the provincial dollars supporting Sault Ste. Marie Police Service come from Ministry of the Solicitor General. Nearly 30 per cent of the cut in Ontario government support, $235,000, is for court security.

Partial funding to help pay 20 officers slipped more than $200,000 due to a change in a government grant, Sault Ste. Marie Police Service spokesperson Lincoln Louttit told The Sault Star in an email. That dollar amount previously stood at $920,000 from Community Policing Partnership and 1,000 Officers Grants and then Police Effectiveness and Modernization.

The funding source changed to Community Safety and Policing Grant this year and became competitive. The police service doesn’t expect to meet criteria to tap the remaining $230,000, said Louttit.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of the Solicitor General wasn’t immediately available for comment on Wednesday.

A “significant reduction” in overtime prompted by disbanding a break and enter unit is helping cover the Ontario government funding shortfall, Chief Hugh Stevenson told reporters following the police board meeting.

We saw an immediate impact on overtime costs,” said Louttit.

Overtime cost the municipal force $220,031 in the first eight months of 2019 compared to $337,874 from January to August 2018.

Four full-time-equivalent officers returned to front-line policing with the break and enter unit’s disbanding.

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No one ever said that front-line policing is not just as good as specialized units,” said Stevenson. “Having a well-staffed front line does work quite well and we’re seeing that in our numbers.”

Property crimes are down over four years, he adds.

City of Sault Ste. Marie continues to cover some police department costs, including anything on top of regular maintenance at the police station on Second Line East. But those expenses, expected to total $820,000 for 2020, now appear in the police department’s budget instead of a city budget line, said Louttit.

We’re trying to account for things in their proper cost centre,” said Mayor Christian Provenzano, who is police board chair. The shifting of costs to the police department does not mean taxpayers will pay more, Provenzano told the board.

It’s just a better reflection of the total costs of policing,” said Stevenson.

Salaries and benefits total $24,023,435 and represent 87 per cent of 2020 budget expenses.

Costs for vehicle purchases and leases will climb 48 per cent from $515,835 to $761,215.

Two factors are driving that increase, said Stevenson. Sticker price for a cruiser jumped from about $28,000 to approximately $40,000. The police department is also switching lease lengths from 30 months to two years.

Many times” cruisers did not last two-and-a-half years, said Stevenson. Instead, the average lifespan is about 24 months.

We were still paying a lease for a vehicle that we could not even use,” he said.

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All vehicles are leased through a police vehicle co-operative agreement. The police service buys some vehicles at lease end “if they are still in good condition,” said Louttit.

Vehicle maintenance and changeover will climb 26 per cent from $120,945 to $152,553.

Subtract the loss of provincial dollars, and moving some costs from the city to the police department, and the budget is up about $300,000 compared to 2019. Provenzano called that increase “very reasonable.”

Advertising and community relations will get $16,900 in 2020, compared to $7,500 in 2019.

btkelly@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @Saultreporter

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