Toronto may lose up to 400 police officers under a $20-million buyout plan being introduced next week.
The Toronto Police Service is one of at least three city agencies – the others being the Toronto Public Library and the Toronto Transit Commission – employing more than 20,000 people that are devising buyout plans as a way of meeting Mayor Rob Ford’s demand to cut budgets by 10 per cent.
Announced in July, the city’s buyout program, or Voluntary Separation Program, was offered to 17,000 City of Toronto workers. But employees of the city’s 108 arms-length agencies were not included.
But over the coming weeks, the city will pull many of those agencies into the buyout fold.
At its meeting next week, the Toronto Police Services Board will consider a recommendation from chair Alok Mukherjee to create a “voluntary exit program” for as many as 400 uniformed officers, subject to $20-million in funding from the city.
The Toronto Library Board will consider a similar offer at its Sept. 13 meeting, also contingent upon money coming from the city.
And while TTC officials would not confirm it, commissioners are expected to consider a buyout package for its 12,000 employees when they meet on Sept. 16.
Both the mayor’s office and the city manager’s office said Thursday that agency boards had come up with the idea without any direction from city hall.
“There’s been no direction from the city manager or council to extend the Voluntary Separation Program to agencies, boards and commissions, however ABCs can introduce a similar program if they wish,” said city spokeswoman Jackie DeSouza in an e-mail.
Questions remain about who will fund the buyouts and how effective they will be in trimming department budgets.
In the case of the Toronto Public Library, staff have calculated it must cut 50 positions, many of which would have been otherwise put towards extending library hours as part of the agency’s Open Hours Vision.
“Those positions being targeted for voluntary separation are the same ones we were going to use to expand library hours across the city,” said board vice-chair Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler. “Now we’re going to stop that program in its place, and I don’t think that’s fair to the library going public. It amounts to a service cut.”
The library already loses around 70 workers a year through attrition. “And now we’ll have to pay those people to leave,” said Mr. Chaleff-Freudenthaler. “It doesn’t make any financial sense.”
The head of Toronto’s police union also expressed concerns with any exit package, saying losing too many officers could result in service declines.
“We’ll definitely have to sit down with the chief and have a long, hard look at this,” said Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association. “My concern is how many officers you can go down before you jeopardize the public and jeopardize officer safety.”
The police board will also consider a recommendation to defer all new hiring until 2013. On average, about 250 members leave the force each year due to retirement, according to Mr. McCormack, putting the total force reduction at 650 between attrition and buyouts. That still falls well short of the 1,000 officers Chief Bill Blair said would lose their jobs if Mr. Ford follows through with a 10-per-cent cut to the police budget.
“There are concerns,” said Mr. McCormack of the hiring freeze. “In the early ’90s we went down a few hundred officers due to attrition and it took many years for the force to recover. If you don’t hire for years, you lose that new crop of officers coming up the ranks every year. You lose a lot of valuable talent that way.”