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Police being used as a 'scapegoat' in debate over Edmonton 7% tax increase: association

The debate over how much Edmonton taxpayers will have to fork over next year is heating up – with at least one city councillor pointing his finger at police, drawing a fiery response from the officer's union.

It was revealed last week that city administrators are proposing a seven per cent increase in 2024, up from the five per cent hike that was previously approved.

Of the additional 2.13 per cent, a total of 1.63 per cent would be for the police budget ($11.8 million) and to cover an arbitrated salary settlement for officers ($19.7 million).

"The majority of this tax increase is going to the police…This is a police tax increase," Ward papastew Coun. Michael Janz told CTV News Edmonton.

"Enormous amounts of money are going to the police. There are fair questions to be asked, should it be? Should this be an area where the province is contributing more? Should this be an area where we're pressing the police service to find further efficiencies?"

Janz answered 'yes' to his latter question.

He argues it's not hard to see questionable expenses like armoured vehicles, helicopters, an airplane, 20 communications employees, layers of management, no layoffs and higher pay for police managers than others at the city.

"The police spent an enormous amount of money on their training centre, they spent an enormous amount of money retrofitting their headquarters, they're spending more money on office rent in a highrise downtown, they're spending more money on numerous guns per officer," he said.

Janz said he believes all city departments should be scoured to keep tax increases as low as possible, including policing, which is the city's largest expense at roughly 15 per cent of all costs.

After an effective freeze from 2021 to 2022 amid "defund the police" protests, the Edmonton police budget is on the rise again, with taxpayers on pace to contribute $452 million to policing in 2024, up from $385 million in 2022.


But on Thursday the service defended those costs, pointing out EPS budgets are scrutinized by the police commission, and other city departments have seen higher increases by percentage.

As for the salary increase: "The previous funding formula, which was suspended in 2020, was inclusive of salary settlements," Cheryl Sheppard wrote in a statement to CTV News Edmonton.

"If this formula had not been suspended initially, EPS would be responsible for covering those costs within its budget."

She also responded to Janz's concerns about renting office space and his suggestion that officers should idle their cruisers less to reduce fuel costs, something being done in Calgary.

"We are not sure why a councillor would want to move police personnel out of downtown," Sheppard wrote, "But we know that the primary focus of Edmontonians is not on the debate about office space and vehicles, but on ensuring EPS is addressing the conditions on the street and very real safety concerns in our city – and this is where our focus will remain."


The vice-president of the Edmonton Police Association said while he can't comment on how the service spends, he doesn't like how the debate is being framed.

Without naming any critics, he feels police have been singled out and blamed for the proposed increase.

"The city needs to support their police. So any public blaming or shaming doesn't really portray that message to the public," Det. Cory Kerr said.

"Safer public spaces in Edmonton demand healthy resource numbers that can maintain services to people in this city and healthy salaries attract and retain members."

Kerr said if Edmonton didn't want an arbitrated settlement to show up now, officials could have negotiated a contract with officers and budgeted for an increase earlier on.

"The city has the ability to forecast these costs, including salary increases, so they should be able to plan for these costs years in advance," he argued.

"Using overworked police members as a scapegoat to justify its tax increase to the citizens of Edmonton, it's an irresponsible statement."

Kerr argued police have earned their raises, saying officers often miss birthdays of their children and other family members to serve the public.

But Coun. Aaron Paquette said councillors are limited in how they can budget for unknown costs in the future, suggesting paying now is unavoidable.

"This is something extra coming because of that arbitration and we have to pay for our services," he told CTV News Edmonton.

He said police funding remains a hot topic amongst Edmonton voters.

"There are two lines of thought that I get emails about: one is 'defund the police,' the other is 'fund the police more.' And the 'fund the police more' is, frankly, a louder voice," Paquette said.

"We already have the best-funded police service in the country per resident and now it's even more so."

On Tuesday, the Edmonton Police Commission issued a press release revealing EPS is also asking for $10 million in 2024 for equipment and tech upgrades.

Council will debate the proposed seven per cent tax increase later this month.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson Top Stories

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