Lacombe council tweaks police budget to send financial message

Mayor says council concerned about rising policing costs

Lacombe city council has trimmed its police budget to send a message about financial restraint.

Council voted this week to reduce the $3.3-million budget proposed by the Lacombe Police Commission by $25,000. The reduction was a compromise from the $50,000 cut council originally wanted.

Mayor Grant Creasey said the “slight adjustment” will have little impact on the policing budget. The change was more about highlighting the need to keep policing costs more in line with council’s goal of limiting budget increases to the rise in the consumer price index, he said.

Creasey said council’s move was to let the commission know that the “continued increases in their budget, which have been significant, are not sustainable and have to be brought under control.”

Creasey said the budget has increased sharply from $2.2 million in 2015 as the force has bolstered its ranks and moved into a new headquarters in 2016.

“No question about it, they are doing a wonderful job of improving the police service,” he said.

However, as much as the force is valued, the municipality must keep its finances in check, said the mayor.

The reduction prompted police commission chairman Bob Huff to write a letter defending the group’s budgeting and requesting the $50,000 be restored.

Huff said the city provided no rationale for its reduction.

“It appears to be arbitrary and reactive, as if council assumes we are asking high in anticipation of a reduction,” he writes in his Nov. 15 letter.

Unlike other city departments, the police budget is drafted, reviewed and scrutinized by the commission before it is sent to council.

The commission’s budget committee develops the financial plan over several months to “ensure that not only is it reasonable and in scope, but also focuses on fiscal responsibility and minimal impact on the overall city tax base.”

Police Chief Lorne Blumhagen addressed council on Monday to discuss the budget and future plans for the force.

Creasey said the budget discussion has improved communication between all of those involved, which is important given the relatively unique position of having a municipal police force, one of only seven communities in Alberta to have one.

“It’s not always an easy and straightforward situation,” he said. “That’s why it’s nice to have a dialogue directly with council.”

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