The vote on the Toronto police budget has been postponed until as late as next Tuesday - one day after Mayor Rob Ford and finance staff are scheduled to unveil a citywide budget that includes the police force as one of its largest line items.
The new Toronto Police Services Board, which includes three Ford allies as fresh appointees, decided to defer voting on Chief Bill Blair's recommendation of a 3-per-cent increase over last year's purse until they have an opportunity to review the proposal more closely, including looking at contracting out cleaning staff at police stations.
When Chief Blair pointed out that the previous city council had directed police not to do that, Councillor Frances Nunziata interjected: "You have a new board and a you have a new council."
Councillor Michael Thompson also supported delaying the vote. He was appointed the board's new vice-chair; Alok Mukherjee was reappointed chair, as expected.
"Taxpayers are saying we can't afford to spend more because we don't have it," Mr. Thompson said during Wednesday's special meeting, a session held specifically to handle the budget. "There's a recognition asking us to do more with less. The mayor has come forward with a mandate that speaks to the notion of looking at efficiencies."
However, Mr. Ford's direction on the police budget has been murky.
He campaigned on adding 50 more officers to the force's official complement this year and 50 next year, a spike his campaign staff estimated would cost an extra $15-million per year once all 100 officers are in place. But Mr. Ford has also ordered Toronto's top bureaucrat to deliver a draft 2011 budget by next Monday that is no larger than the 2010 budget, freezes property taxes and includes no "major" service cuts.
To achieve that, city manager Joe Pennachetti has stuck with the order he issued last year to all city departments and agencies: Cut your budgets by five per cent in 2011.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Ford backed away from his promise of adding more officers Tuesday, and the issue of spending more didn't come up during the meeting. Instead, Mr. Ford's new appointees to the board, Mr. Thompson, Ms. Nunziata and Chin Lee, pressed Chief Blair on whether he could cut deeper.
Asked if he and police finance staff had explored a five-per-cent reduction, Chief Blair replied that it would have "necessitated a significant number of layoffs of both uniform and civilian personnel," something he said he doesn't have the power or desire to do.
The police board and city council determine Toronto police's official officer complement, which currently sits at 5,586, plus an additional 30 officers for high schools.
If the 3-per-cent increase is approved, the police budget would rise to $914.9-million this year from $888.2-million last. Some 94 per cent of the additional $26.7-million is automatic salary and benefit hikes, according to Chief Blair's report. The budget does not factor in further hikes expected to follow this year's labour negotiations. The police contract expired Dec. 31.
Without a board-approved police budget, Monday's draft city budget will tentatively include the 3-per-cent figure, according to Cindy Bromley, the city's finance spokeswoman. "There's time in the budget process to accommodate the police board's schedule," she said in an e-mail. Council is scheduled to vote on the full 2011 budget at the end of February.
As for the now unlikely prospect of extra officers, Chief Blair told reporters after the meeting that, "I know there's work for them … but having said that, I've got to work within the envelope of staff and budget that we currently have."