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War chest worth looking at

10 Jul 2014

Niagara This Week - Thorold

They say you shouldn’t bring a knife to a gunfight, but Bruce Timms figures the Niagara Regional Police board has for years walked into contract negotiations without even a wet noodle as a weapon.

The St. Catharines regional councillor, who’s been a vocal critic of generous pay increases for police by provincial arbitrators for years, figures the time has come to give the NRP board its own club for when it sits down to negotiate with the association representing police officers.

That club, he figures, would be in the form of a war chest assembled by putting $200,000 a year into a reserve fund to pay for legal costs if the Region balks at agreeing to police funding increases and the matter is appealed to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission.

That commission makes rulings when police services and the municipal governments that fund them can’t come to an agreement on funding.

In the past, it was common for regional council to complain loudly about funding requests from NRP boards that were high. But, typically, the Region would back down under the threat of the matter going to the police commission.

The fear is that the Region could be on the hook for hefty costs, plus the commission was usually seen as a body that ruled in favour of police services.

That all led to a ‘can’t win’ attitude among regional councillor, said Timms, who pitched his idea of the police commission war chest at regional council last week. It’s been referred to a committee meeting next week.

In addition to sending a message to the police association that it’s serious about being willing to fight to protect property taxpayers, Timms figures the war chest will also send a strong message to the arbitrators who are seen as unwilling to consider the ability of Niagara taxpayers to keep swallowing public sector pay raises.

It will help the Region’s ability-to-pay argument, and could also cause arbitrators to be more cautious about awarding pay raises because it could lead to police service reductions — one of the criteria that arbitrators are supposed to consider — should the Region win at a police commission hearing, said Timms.

Spending $200,000 a year sounds like a lot, but with wages and benefits accounting for more than 90 per cent of police spending, knocking a couple of percentage points off of police pay raises could potentially lead to millions of dollars in savings down the road.

The reserve fund is something that regional council should take a serious look at.

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