A bump in salaries following labour negotiations has led to a proposed $100,000 budget increase by the Nelson Police Department.
Chief Paul Burkart presented a provisional 2018 budget to city council on Monday. The net increase of $102,221, according to Burkart, is to account for a 17 per cent increase in salary over seven years, retroactive to 2013, that was agreed to last December in collective bargaining. The proposed net total budget is $3,278,064.
“It would almost be double that if the [police union] hadn’t made the concessions they made this year, which is great for the city. They understand that policing is expensive,” said Burkart.
The new collective agreement covers increases for 17 officers and five other staff through 2019. Burkart isn’t included because he isn’t part of the union.
The police department also added another officer and support person this year after it was ordered to do so by the provincial director of police services, which was mostly responsible for a $253,000 increase request in November 2016.
Burkart said an extensive review was also undertaken to find cost-cutting measures within the department. Those measures included a reduction in front counter hours, schedule changes and the use of a part-time officer to cover for an injured member. The department also relies on five volunteer reserve officers, and hopes to add another five next year.
“We’ll continue to look for savings. …,” he said. “I think we do a pretty good job. We’re a pretty efficient police department.”
Mayor Deb Kozak has previously said the city was already putting aside savings to account for the rise in salaries.
A faulty radio system, however, might add a significant increase to the budget request if approved.
Burkart and Nelson Fire and Rescue chief Len MacCharles both said the radio system their members use needs to be replaced. The current Motorola system was purchased three years ago, but the pair said it has frequent reception issues and doesn’t allow for communication between the two departments.
City council was previously made aware of the issue. Burkart added the current radios also don’t allow police to communicate with RCMP.
“[RCMP] went to a system that’s very expensive and we weren’t ready to go there,” said Burkart. “We’ve noticed now over three years, the fire chief and I have said our members are at risk. It’s just not a good system for first responders, and no one told us this when we purchased the system.
“It was the budget we had and we went with that system. It’s not really first-responder rated.”
Burkart said the final cost of a new system for both departments isn’t yet known but would likely be included in the final draft of the 2018 budget.
Numbers Burkart presented to city council show the municipal police force cost about 10 per cent of Nelson’s operational expenditures in 2017, or about 22 cents for every tax dollar.
Other statistics of note were:
• Each officer takes on 47 cases annually, which is the third highest in B.C. among the province’s 11 independent municipal police departments.
• NPD has taken about 170 more total calls this year compared to 2016. Burkart said he thinks the reason for that is the force has more members to respond than it previously did.
“We’re picking up more calls because we have more members out there,” he said. “We’re not just responding to calls, we’re actually proactive in creating those calls.”
• Seventeen per cent of calls made to NPD are mental health related. Burkart said that number has mostly remained consistent since the department began tracking that specific stat five or six years ago, and has put a strain on resources.
“It’s a big portion of what we do now, and that’s why we don’t allow one person to work alone anymore,” he said. “Mental health calls, when somebody is downtown acting suspiciously, we have to go deal with that and it’s not safe for one officer to go to that call. So it does have an impact.”