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War chest plan moves forward

03 Sep 2014

By Rob Houle

It took a while to come together, but a plan to create a “war chest” to fund Niagara Region fights against police budgets is moving forward.

St. Catharines regional Coun. Bruce Timms put forth his plan for such a fund as an amendment to a staff report to the Region’s corporate services committee Wednesday. That report — approved by committee in a 10-7 vote but still requiring full council approval — will see the streamlining of reserve funds.

Timms wants council to create a fund in which $200,000 will be added annually. The money would be spent defending council’s position on the Niagara Regional Police budget before the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services. 

Timms and other like-minded councillors believe such a fund would show the Niagara Region Police Association the Region is serious about holding the line on the NRP budget, of which approximately 94% is committed to salaries.a

Policing is considered an essential service and officers are not permitted to strike should they fail to reach a bargained contract with municipalities. Because of this, a binding arbitration system is in place, but history has shown arbitrators usually side with police.

“The intent,” Timms said, “is to be prepared to defend the taxpayer if and when the police board decides to appeal council’s decision on how much to give the police service at budget time.

“This fund is set aside to tell the arbitrator, the police board, the union and OCCOPS that this council is prepared to defend the taxpayer against escalating policing costs — whatever the cost.” 

Timms’s amendment, which called for a staff report about the establishment of the fund, had detractors.

“To me, this is the wrong way to go,” said Regional Chair Gary Burroughs. 

“We need to fix the (arbitration) system.”

Lincoln Mayor Bill Hodgson said creating a specific reserve fund was not necessary. If council chose to appeal the police budget, he said, the money could be drawn from general reserves. 

“I’m perfectly supportive of a motion that would commit council to the good fight on behalf of taxpayers, but we do have, in fact, the funds to support that effort, just like we would in any kind of legal proceeding,” Hodgson said.

Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn said a reserve fund would send a mixed message.

“To me, it’s like setting money aside to prove that we don’t have any money,” he said in announcing he would not support the amendment.

Timms found an ardent supporter in St. Catharines regional Coun. Andy Petrowski, who busted out a baseball analogy to make his point.

“This is another bat,” Petrowski said. “This is like an aluminum bat. We need an aluminum bat when we’re getting into the ball diamond with the police association. 

“The styrofoam bat didn’t hit the ball very far. This is another bat in our dugout, to put the police association on notice that we are going to put aside money to be able to launch a reasonable and a funded fight.”

Thorold regional Coun. Henry D’Angela, who is chair of the Niagara Region Police Services Board, agreed with Burroughs.

“We went to arbitration, a year, two years ago and basically we got beat up with that bat,” he said, referring to an arbitration ruling in 2013 that gave police a 3.05% raise retroactive to 2012.

“The rules aren’t working. They need some adjustment, but unfortunately we’re not the ones who can make those adjustments. That’s the provincial government, so until they look at that, we’re stuck with what we have.”

He said it was better to spend that money to lobby the provincial government for change.

Niagara Falls regional Coun. Selina Volpatti spoke in favour of the reserve fund.

“It’s going to cost us that money anyway on increases. We need a war chest,” she said.

The staff report on the establishment of the Ontario Civilian Police Commission Appeal Reserve fund will be referred to a future budget review committee of the whole, pending approval from regional council.

Twitter: RobH_Standard

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