NIAGARA—The Region won’t be establishing a special fund for future legal battles over police funding after all.
With some elected officials saying they regretted what they saw as increasingly inflammatory rhetoric of late over the issue of what was first referred to as a ‘war chest’ in this newspaper back in July, regional council on Thursday night shot down a previous committee decision to ask for a staff report on establishing a police reserve fund.
St. Catharines Coun. Bruce Timms led the charge to establish the fund, which would have seen $200,000 a year set aside in case the Region and the Niagara Regional Police board – which negotiates pay raises with the association representing front-line officers –ended up in a legal fight over the police budget at the Ontario Civilian Police Commission.
That commission can impose budgets when police forces and the municipal governments that fund them – such as the Region – can’t agree on budgets.
At Thursday’s meeting, St. Catharines Mayor Brian McMullan said the reserve fund would be unfairly “targeting” the police association.
“We have many unions or associations or labour groups that we negotiate with, and we negotiate at the Region in good faith,” he said. “I think that’s how we should deal with each and every group.
“The men and women they (the police association) represent are good and honourable individuals. It sends the wrong message that we’re going to start treating them differently.”
Grimsby Coun. Debbie Zimmerman got into a heated exchange with St. Catharines Coun. Andy Petrowski over his description at an earlier committee meeting of the reserve fund being a “bat” that will send a message to the police association that the Region is ready to fight excessive police cost increases.
“We’re asking the taxpayers of Niagara to take on the fight with the police which we work with every single day,” she said. “Why would be do that? Why would we ask the citizens of Niagara to fight with our emergency services?”
The reserve fund wouldn’t change the fact that the arbitration system that awards police pay raises when association and police board contract negotiations stall is a provincial one, not a regional one, she said.
Timms said he wanted the police association and its president Cliff Priest, who was in the audience at Thursday’s meeting, to know “there is no hate here” in pushing for the reserve fund. “There is a duty to defend the taxpayer against escalating police costs,” he said. “That is fundamentally our duty.
“The rhetoric is getting escalated.”
Likewise, Niagara Falls Coun. Selina Volpatti said the reserve wasn’t meant to be pushed in the face of police.
“It has nothing to do with disrespecting police,” she said. “It has nothing to do with setting any kind of war situation with police.”
Port Colborne Dave Barrick said the staff report on the idea of the reserve fund was needed because while the Region’s budget has only climbed 25 per cent in the last 10 years or so, the police budget has soared 60 per cent over the same period.
The motion for a staff report on setting up the reserve fund was handily defeated 21 votes to 8.