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Toronto police chief reduces budget ask, but still seeks 2 per cent increase

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair speaks to the media in Toronto early Tuesday, July 17, 2012, near the scene of a shooting that left 19 people injured and two dead at a house party late Monday, July 16.

Aaron Vincent Elkaim/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Toronto's police chief has shaved another $2.3-million off his budget request, but his latest offering still leaves the force $19.1-million or 2 per cent above the freeze the city is demanding.

That means there could be police layoffs if the Ford administration and the Toronto Police Services Board decide to stick to their guns and flat-line the police budget at a special meeting Dec. 10.

In a new report to the board released Monday, Chief Bill Blair suggests cancelling the April 2013 officer recruit class and adjusting two others while an external consultant studies how many officers are needed to keep the city safe.

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"Chief Blair has come back with an additional suggestion to save money in the 2013 budget," Mark Pugash, a police spokesman, said. "The board asked the chief how to get to zero. The chief has given them detailed information … he's explained what it will take. He supplied them with their request and now, since it's the board's budget, it's their decision."

At least one member of the city's budget committee is not impressed. "It's a good start," Councillor Peter Milczyn told reporters. During Monday's budget committee meeting, Mr. Milczyn pointed out that the police service will end this year with a surplus that exceeds the extra amount they received from the city after arguing they could not meet their original budget target.

That shows, Mr. Milczyn said that, "there is ample room to chip away at $21-million that we need to balance our budget."

"It's not what we need," agreed Councillor John Parker, another budget committee member, who pointed out that all city departments have been asked to hold their budgets at 2012 levels. "We are asking the police service to do what every other department in the city has done," he said.

In November, the chief told the board that 137 uniformed officers and 52 civilians would have to be laid off to meet the city's target. Salaries make up 90 per cent of the police budget.

Since that last meeting, the city has unveiled a draft budget that includes a frozen police budget.

The city's budget chief is warning that council will have to slash services elsewhere or increase property taxes by more than the proposed 1.95 per cent if the board caves and approves more money for the force in 2013.

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Budget Chief Mike Del Grande, who will join the police board next year, said Monday that it is up to the board to provide direction on the budget for the force.

"I can't speak for the board. That is their responsibility," he said.

Councillor Chin Lee, the board member whom Mr. Del Grande is replacing, said he is still making up his mind about whether police should get more money next year.

"I haven't decided which way to vote yet until the time comes," Mr. Lee said.

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