Seven months after Nelson city council declined the police board’s request for an additional $311,000, the issue remains unresolved.
About a year ago, the police department asked the city for the increase to cover the cost of two additional officers and an administrator.
Even though the city decides on its budget in the spring, it requires the police to give them a budget proposal the preceding fall. In last fall’s request, the police said they are less well staffed than other police forces, and there has been a significant increase in mental health-related calls.
City council refused the police’s request, citing uncertainty about whether the increasing mental health calls were really policing problems, and pointing to the opinion of Interior Health that a special mental health police car is not cost effective in towns as small as Nelson. It approved an increase of $50,000 instead.
Nelson is one of 11 cities in the province with their own police force, overseen by a local police board. The Nelson Police Department is funded by the city.
The police board appealed the budget refusal to the provincial director of police services, who has the power to investigate and declare the minimum number of officers required in Nelson.
That was in March, and no one has heard from the director since. A request by the Star for an update resulted in an emailed statement from the director, Clayton Pecknold:
“The Nelson Police Board’s application under section 27(3) of the Police Act remains under review. This is a statutory process that takes some time. Any review findings would be reported to the board, as well as to the local council. A request for this type of review is rare, and municipalities, their police boards and police agencies are encouraged to work together to resolve issues wherever possible.”
In the meantime, a new community group, the Nelson Street Culture Collaborative, which includes the police department, has been meeting to figure out how to deal with police and mental health issues in a new way, but it is taking some time as well.
This year’s provisional police budget has to be submitted to the city by the end of November. But last year’s budget request resulted in a stalemate that hasn’t been resolved because the director of police services hasn’t made a decision.
Does that make things awkward for this year’s budget process?
“The authority of the Director of Police Services is to look at the minimal staffing required to meet council’s obligation under the Police Act,” city manager Kevin Cormack told the Star in a recent email.
“A police board always has the opportunity to ask council to provide staffing levels above that to provide enhanced public safety. Right now what is unknown is what the minimal level of staffing the director believes is required and that does create uncertainty until that decision is made.”
Mayor Deb Kozak, who as the chair of the police board is on both sides of this issue, had no comment except to say the Nelson police board’s budget committee is working on it.
Police chief Wayne Holland told the Star in an email:
“The police board provisional budget sub-committee is already considering their options. If Victoria makes a decision, the [budget committee’s] work is fairly simple — the budget will be made up in accordance with the police services recommendations and/or directions.
“If Victoria does not make a decision, the [budget committee] could do a number of things — but I can’t tell you what they will for sure do as their deliberations are in-camera at this point.”
• Sending in a status quo budget, with everything staying as it presently is.
• Renewing their request for the same ask as last year’s provisional budget.
• Ask for something entirely different, although Holland said this is unlikely.
“I am presently leaning towards asking for what we asked for last year,” Holland said. “Our needs haven’t lessened in any way. But I need to meet with the [budget committee] a few times more before a decision is made. My hopes and expectations are that Victoria will have completed their work in time for their conclusions to be of assistance to us.”