Halifax Regional Council rejects proposed $2 million police budget increase

Halifax Regional Council on Friday rejected a proposal to increase the police department budget after a second day of deliberations.

Only three councilors – David Hendsbee, Becky Kent and Lisa Blackburn – spoke in favor of accepting the proposed budget. Halifax Regional Police requested a $2 million budget increase that would be used to hire 25 new officers and nine civilians.

A motion to send the budget back to the Board of Police Commissioners with a new cap on service improvements was accepted by a narrow margin.

Blackburn said she supports a committee report on police funding that was submitted to the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners last month. The adviser said she had just met with committee chair and campaigner El Jones the day before to discuss next steps.

Changes in policing are coming, Blackburn said, but at the moment “it’s clear the front lines of the police force are drowning.”

“Until all of these alternative services and supports are in place, we need to keep the lights on,” Blackburn said.

“We have 10,000 new residents moving into HRM every year. We’ve built a community the size of Truro in West Bedford, and all of that requires policing.”

Majority of council rejects budget and wants change

Deputy Mayor Pamela Lovelace said she understands the difficult job and important role the police play in the city, but would reject the budget.

“Now is the time to change the police,” Lovelace said, adding that the board had heard from voters and read the police funding report.

Halifax Deputy Mayor Pamela Lovelace spoke out against approving the budget increase. (Lyndsay Doyle)

“We know we have issues on the ground, in our communities and in our police forces that need to be addressed,” she said.

“I’m not convinced that adding more body is the right thing to do.”

The Board had three options: accept the proposed budget as is, including nearly $3 million more than the base budget for enhanced services like additional detectives, agents and 911 dispatchers; reject it and send it back to the Board of Police Commissioners for revisions; or reject it and send it back to the board of directors with a fixed financial objective.

Halifax’s police chief presented the $90.8 million budget for 2022-23 in December, an increase of just over $2 million over the existing budget.

Motion to make the budget with a new ceiling

After several hours of discussion, the con. Tony Mancini proposed returning the budget to the Board of Commissioners with instructions that service improvements not exceed $1.3 million.

Mancini’s rationale for this goal was the approval of 13 new agents (vs. 25 proposed) and four new 911 dispatchers (vs. eight). However, as commissioners and councilors have repeatedly pointed out, the council has no control over how the budget is actually spent.

Several councilors said they would not support the motion because the funding increase was still too high.

Among them was the councillor. Sam Austin who said he would not support Mancini’s motion because he had not been convinced of the need for patrol or additional traffic officers, and the 1.3 million cap dollars was still more than he could approve.

Sam Austin, the councilor for Dartmouth Centre, said he was unconvinced of the need for patrolling or additional traffic officers. (Robert Short/CBC)

Com. Patty Cuttel said she couldn’t vote for the original budget or the recommended amendment because she felt they hadn’t received enough input.

“What is an effective and efficient police force? Cuttel asked. “How many sworn officers do we really need? I don’t feel like we’ve really been presented with that data.”

Narrow margin on movement

Ultimately, the motion passed by a single vote with nine councilors voting to return the budget to council with a cap of $1.3 million for additional services.

The eight votes against the motion included councilors who preferred the original budget (Blackburn and Kent) and councilors who thought the new cap was still too high.

Com. Cathy Deagle Gammon said she voted against the motion because, while she agreed with sending the budget back to the board, she argued the new cap was arbitrary.

The Board of Police Commissioners must now prepare a new budget for the board’s approval.

Elna M. Lemons