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Toronto police chief's budget proposal rejected; layoffs loom

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

The Ford administration's point man on the police board is rejecting Chief Bill Blair's latest budget offering, saying the city has no intention of backing off its demand that the force freeze spending.

Chief Blair is proposing shaving another $2.3-million off his 2013 budget request by cancelling an upcoming recruit class, but that still leaves the force $19.1-million or 2 per cent over the city's target.

Councillor Michael Thompson, vice-chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, said that is not acceptable.

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"Why not? Because we are looking for a zero increase and that's not where we are," he said.

The impasse means police layoffs could be on the way if Mayor Rob Ford and his allies on the police board decide to stick to their guns and flatline the police budget at a special meeting Dec. 10.

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

Last month, the chief told the board that in order to hold spending to 2012 levels, the force would have to lay off 137 uniformed officers and 52 civilian staff – a step the chief opposes.

Salaries make up 90 per cent of the police budget.

"Chief Blair has come back with an additional suggestion to save money in the 2013 budget," said Mark Pugash, a police spokesman. "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."

But Mr. Thompson and some of his council allies continue to insist police can make the cuts without taking officers off the streets.

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"I'm prepared to address the the zero-per-cent increase with respect to no front-line impact and I'm waiting for that to occur," Mr. Thompson said.

Councillor Doug Ford, vice-chair of the budget committee, said he is hoping the city can work "side-by-side" with police to achieve the same spending freeze that is being requested of all city departments.

"We push every department and the police aren't excluded," the mayor's brother said. "As much as we think the world of them – and everyone does – they have to come to the table like everyone else does ... hopefully we will come to a happy compromise."

At least one other member of the city's budget committee is underwhelmed with the chief's new proposal.

"It's a good start," Councillor Peter Milczyn told reporters. During Monday's budget committee meeting, Mr. Milczyn pointed out that the police service is expected to 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 in 2012.

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

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Last week, the city unveiled a draft operating budget that freezes police spending.

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 police in 2013.

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.

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Kelly Grant is a health reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

Toronto City Hall bureau chief



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