Almost half – 44.5 per cent – of your property tax dollar goes to support the police and firefighters. No wonder the city can’t afford flowers for its streets – let alone solutions to crumbling curbs and potholes!
All right. I’ll say it if no one else will. The cost of our city police and fire department is out of control!
Nobody wants to touch this hot potato with the result that these two services now gobble up 44.5 per cent of our total budget! Police services want $264 million this year, and we are just talking operating costs here, not the new building or any other capital costs; and the fire services want another $178.3 million. That adds up to a whopping $442.3 million to be spent on operating these two services in one year.
Meanwhile, street renewal, which got a boost in the spring, will get just off $640 million – over six years! That is less, annually, than one-quarter of what will be spent on security. And to compensate, the city administration proposed silly initiatives like cutting back on the number of flowers planted on the streets or adding a huge “legal” fee to rent space in a city-owned property. These are red herring initiatives designed to keep political eyes away from the real issues.
A lot of ink has been spilled on the topic of escalating security costs across the country over the past few years, some writers complaining that cops and firefighters make too much money. At $93,000 for those with five years’ service, that may be, but I would rather blame it on a defeated political class that was too tired or too afraid to take on these apple-pie issues for fear of the political flack sure to follow.
Bright young councillors should avoid defending the budget
Right now, we are lucky to have a crop of young and energetic councillors who must be horrified at what they learn each and every day about where the money goes in the city. To have to pass a budget within the first four months of office is not an enviable task. They should take care, however, not to defend too strenuously some of the budget provisions. On sober second thought and with more time to learn and question, they will want to take more control over the process and insist on changes for next year.
This year they may have to hold their noses, vote and move on, choosing their battles for later, but they should be parsing every budget line for the next 12 months, being unafraid to demand more for less.
Back to bloated police and fire services
Meanwhile, the cost of security services in Winnipeg is way out of control. This is not just an opinion. A quick Internet search revealed that while everyone is concerned about security costs, Winnipeg has one of the worst records. Edmonton’s security spending gobbles up 24 per cent of its budget, Ottawa’s 18 per cent, Toronto’s only 17.6 per cent (the police service which takes only 10 per cent of the Toronto budget is under deep criticism there). Only Calgary comes close to being as bad as Winnipeg.
– Starting salary $51,204.33
– First class (five years) $93,098.77
– Overtime time and a half first four hours, double time after that
– Uniforms, dry cleaning and clothing allowance for use of civilian clothes
– 120 hours (three weeks) sick leave per year, accumulative
– Vacation three weeks after one year, four weeks after five years, five weeks after 13 years and six weeks after 21 years.
– Pensions after 25 years and retirement at 55 or whichever comes first.
– The usual health and dental benefits
– The details of fire service compensation are much more complicated, but they range for a starting salary about $51,000 to around $129,000 plus benefits.
Furthermore, according to a Fraser Institute report published last September, our police force alone consists of 1,463 police officers, 465 civilians and 60 cadets. That is just shy of 2,000 personnel on the police payroll. The report says we are grossly overstaffed; the number of officers per 100,000 Winnipeg population should be about 145, but the actual number is 187. That means we have about 300 more cops than we need in a city this size.
Not surprisingly, Police Chief Devon Clunis does not agree with the report’s conclusions.
The firefighters have issues, too
As for firefighters, there are over 800 of them and yet overtime costs have skyrocketed – an 86 per cent increase year over year cost us over $5 million. Why? It appears that leaves of absence have left many stations short of workers, so overtime opportunities are way up. This points to bad management, but it may have more to do with the fact that fire chief John Lane has to contend with a powerful union agent, Alex Forrest, who is apparently a fiercely powerful and ambitious individual with international ambitions to do with his union work.
Naturally, the fire chief and the union want even more men and more money. Meanwhile, people are driving themselves to hospital during a heart attack rather than calling an ambulance, which carries a whopping fee in excess of $500 plus $122 per hour for waiting time, the highest in the country.
I’m the last person to condemn anyone for making a good living, so this is not about salaries or benefits. But what we must demand is full value for pay and if you are going to make $100,000 a year, you’d better be there to work for it. This is not necessarily the case for either the police or the fire service; granted leave is sidetracking a huge percentage of them away from regular duties. As much as one-third of the force, according to one source, is away on special leave or courses at any given time. This adds to the overtime costs and requires an inflated number of personnel to carry out ordinary duties.
We are behind you
It is very hard to battle entrenched forces such as the police and the fire-fighter services. After a few years, politicians just give up and give in. But enough is enough, and with a new and energetic cadre of councillors, now is the time to make changes.
One more thing: they cannot do this alone. The local media need to get a better grasp of the issues in order to help citizens understand and get behind our councillors as they work to makes the necessary changes. And if you are reading this, you can do your part by making sure others get the message, too.