Councillors voted on a tax hike that’s more than half of what was expected – but the budget left out millions in additional funding for more officers to be added to the Edmonton Police Service.

On Tuesday afternoon, councillors voted to pass the 2013 operating budget – that will come with a lower tax increase.

The increase is lower than the expected 5.5 per cent – but one department did not get the funding it was hoping for.
Late Tuesday morning, councillors voted 9 to 4 against providing EPS with an additional $6.5 million – that would create new positions.

The vote came after a funding increase of $20 million was requested from the 2013 operating budget in mid-November.

Police Chief Rod Knecht was quick to voice his dismay at council’s decision.

“We are disappointed obviously,” Knecht said. “We asked for what we thought we needed to deliver the services next year.

“We will do the best with what we have.”

“Like every department, they always want more, and at some point in time you have to say wait a minute this is not a reasonable amount,” Mayor Stephen Mandel said.

Councillor Tony Caterina was one of four councillors who voted in favour of the $6.5 million increase – he said the department will now have to find money somewhere else.

“They’re going to have to continue that service, and find it somewhere within the department,” Caterina said. “I can imagine some items will be pushed further down the list.”

Last week, councillors questioned Police Chief Rod Knecht over the funding request.

Knecht said the extra $6.5 million would go towards the creation of 29 new sworn positions, and more money was needed for prisoner transport.

The Chief of Police said starting in early April at the latest; officers will have to cover transporting prisoners to Edmonton’s new Remand Centre, located several kilometres away from the current downtown facility – which is across the street from the Law Courts and EPS headquarters.

The job of moving prisoners is expected to remove about nine officers from the street.

“Naturally it will probably be in the patrol area that we will take those resources, because we need armed, trained, healthy individuals to move these people back and forth,” Knecht said.
In addition, police are tasked with transporting prisoners to provincial and federal institutions – each year officers transport more than 10,000 prisoners.

In the meeting last week, the Mayor and the Police Chief agreed to approach the province and the federal government to help cover the costs of moving prisoners.

On Tuesday the Mayor reiterated the province should be approached to help with that cost.

“I think there is a responsibility, and they’ve acknowledged that to me, that moving the prisoners is their responsibility,” Mandel said.

Although the funding for additional positions was turned down, $13.5 million for non-discretionary costs for contracts and maintenance was voted through.

Later Tuesday, city council passed the 2013 operating budget for the city – with that, the average homeowner in the city will see a tax increase of 3.3 per cent, or about $60.

City officials said the increase was broken up into two parts, with 2.3 per cent meant for civic services and agencies, and one per cent for the Neighbourhood Renewal Program, for reconstruction and maintenance of roads, sidewalks and streetlights in mature neighbourhoods.

The budget totals $1.95 billion.

The target tax increase was originally pegged at 5.5 per cent.

With files from Dez Melenka