Nelson’s police board isn’t taking no for an answer.
City council recently rejected the police department’s request for an additional $311,000 to cover the cost of two new officers and an administrator, saying the best it could do was an increase of $50,000.
But at its meeting Tuesday, the police board voted to appeal the matter to the province under a rarely-used provision of the BC Police Act.
That legislation says a city council must agree to a budget presented by its police force, and if it doesn’t, the matter can be referred to the director of police services at the provincial Ministry of Justice, who investigates and then decides.
If the director decides the requested amount should be accepted by the city as part of its budget, and council does not comply, it could put the city in a position of legal liability, according to police chief Wayne Holland.
“I would suggest that it would be poor risk management to ignore the recommendation of the director of police services,” Holland said in an interview.
“If something befell the city or a citizen or a police officer as a result of council refusing to provide adequate and effective police services here,” Holland said, “that is a risk management issue the city had better consider.”
The chair of the police board is mayor Deb Kozak, so she is the leader of both sides of this disagreement. But this sharp division of loyalties is not her choice. The Police Act requires a volunteer civilian board to oversee municipal police forces, and it stipulates the mayor must chair it.
In addition to the mayor, the Nelson police board has five members, one appointed by city council and the others appointed by the provincial cabinet. All five members members voted to send the budget issue to the director of police services. (Kozak did not vote because at the police board the chair only votes in the event of a tie.)
Nelson is one of 11 cities in BC that employs its own police force, but by far the smallest. Policing makes up 22 per cent of the city’s budget. In its initial budget presentation to council last fall, Holland said the department hasn’t added any officer positions in 20 years and has had no increase in administrative support in 30 years.
Councillor Micheal Dailly was one of four city councillors who attended the police board meeting as observers.
“There is clearly a lack of trust that goes back to the former city council and we [the new council] have not had a chance to be apprised of that situation and they are not giving us that opportunity,” Dailly said.
“We need to look at what police are doing that is taking police time, and whether it is things civilian staff can do. I am not convinced it is police officers we need.”
Dailly said council is concerned police are spending a lot of time at the hospital with people with mental health problems.
“We have approached the hospital and are in conversations about getting security at the hospital so policemen can go back to doing police work. I am open to being convinced,” Dailly said, “but I am not convinced. I want to know what convinced the police board.”
Kozak says granting the $311,000 increase could involve raising taxes by up to 4% to pay for it. A one per cent increase in property taxes raises about $75,000 for the city.
Kozak says she has been trying since she was elected to convene a joint meeting of the police board and city council but has had trouble matching the schedules of all the people involved. She expects a meeting will happen in April.
Kozak and Holland both say the two bodies have not been in the habit of talking to each other over the years.
“We have invited past councils over the years to meet with us and work with our finance committee,” said Holland. “I can’t answer why this has not happened. Now the invitation is being accepted, and we are very happy about that. Council is well intentioned, but this issue has persisted for four years.”