The Toronto police board has broken its budget stalemate with Chief Bill Blair in a deal that will avoid layoffs this year.
But 2013 is a different story.
“The elephant in the room is still there,” said board vice-chair Michael Thompson, referring to job losses. “We’ve just put a blanket over it. I don’t see how you can avoid [layoffs]long-term.”
After a session with the city CFO, mayor’s staff, board members and Chief Blair that extended beyond 9 p.m. on Tuesday, the two sides agreed to a $936.3-million budget, a slight increase on its 2011 budget of $930.4-million.
Those figures are a far cry from demands the board had made of Chief Blair just two weeks ago, when members vowed to impose a 10-per-cent cut over one year that would slash the budget to under $890-million.
“They buckled,” said Councillor Adam Vaughan, a former member of the Police Services Board. “They bailed on cutting the police. What this really amounts to is a flat-lining of police spending, not anything close to the 10 per cent Mayor [Rob]Ford asked for.”
But those involved in the negotiations have decided to interpret the latest proposal as a significant cut. And it is indeed a 4.6-per-cent reduction from an early 2012 budget forecast of $979.4-million, a figure that includes a collective agreement signed early this year boosting uniform pay 11.5 per cent over four years.
In vowing to shave roughly 5 per cent this year and another 5 per cent next, the board and chief say they’re on track to meet Mayor Ford’s city-wide target of 10-per-cent budget reductions for 2012 – even though they’re taking twice as long.
“I’m disappointed,” admitted Mr. Thompson, who pushed forcefully both in public meetings and behind closed doors for the police to meet the 10-per-cent target in one year rather than two. “It wasn’t what I’d been hoping to achieve in the end. If you really look at it, a lot of line items have just been shifted around or deferred. At the same time, I don’t think such a cut has ever happened in the history of this organization. I was told it was impossible. That’s a positive step.”
The new budget request will go before the police board on Thursday in the form of a report from Chief Blair. While board members have rejected previous budget submissions from the chief, they are expected to endorse this one.
The cut is significant, considering 88 per cent of the force’s budget is tied up in fixed labour costs.
Chief Blair has proposed to reach the 4.6 per cent with a cancellation of hiring, attrition of 200 staff, 10-per-cent reduction of senior management positions, cuts to premium pay and outsourcing of caretaking in some buildings. But even with all that, he only managed to shed 3 per cent in a proposal the board roundly rejected on Oct. 5.
At the time, Mr. Thompson said it actually amounted to a 1.5-per-cent increase and warned the chief his job would be on the line.
“Those comments may have been the breakthrough,” Mr. Thompson said Wednesday night. “I said that would get things moving.”
The new budget request subtracts another $8.4-million from the chief’s request, all rooted out by city staff who opted to defer payments to the Sick Leave Gratuity Reserve, reduce gasoline price forecasts from $1.35 to $1.20 and account for an earlier-than-expected outsourcing of cleaning staff.
But it does not address overwhelming budget pressures the force will face a year from now. Figures contained in the report show spending increasing to $981.7-million in 2013 – approximately $95-million short of the mayor’s $886.4-million target – before topping $1-billion for the first time in 2014.
Mr. Thompson said the force will need a culture change to reach targets. “We can’t continue to get pushback and resistance when we try to reduce and contain police costs,” he said.