A safe Edmonton requires a fair and accountable funding strategy.
Finding the right resources and right people to address issues is key to a sustainable safety ecosystem.
In the context of misinformation circulating in the community, I would like to provide some perspective about Edmonton Police Service funding.
In November, my City Council colleagues and I will be faced with the most complex and constrained budget deliberation in recent memory. With increased inflation, two years of very small municipal tax levy increases, and the various effects of the pandemic, we will be scrutinizing every single one of the 73 lines of business that the budget contains. And rightfully so.
We will have to make hard decisions about core services, programs that Edmontonians rely on, and future projects during the 2023–2026 budget cycle. This must happen all while we keep in mind how our decisions will affect the property tax levy for homeowners at a time when they are feeling more pressure due to rising costs. This is our job as elected officials and I know every single council member takes this responsibility incredibly seriously.
That is why I want to talk to you about the item that makes up the largest portion of your annual property tax bill: The Edmonton Police Service.
Let me start off by thanking Police Officers for their commitment to keeping our communities safe. They have an incredibly difficult job and are here to address violence and crime. But we also need to think about how we reduce their workload of non-statutory responsibilities (issues that are not covered in the Police Act). I believe that we should fund EPS adequately, but we need to have the conversation about time spent on non-policing functions and so we have the right people responding to the right issues.
We also have to talk about the working relationship between City Council, Edmonton Police Commission (EPC), and the Edmonton Police Service (EPS). I want to demystify how the police budget is created and approved. The Edmonton Police Commission is a group of nine civilian volunteers and two councillors that work with the EPS to decide how EPS spends the money that is allocated by City Council. They are also the body that is responsible for reviewing public complaints, and are required to be open and transparent in their processes.
From 2019 to 2022, the Edmonton Police Service property tax supported budget went up by $28.6 Million which represents a 8.47% increase over 4 years. Starting in 2016, EPS funding levels were determined using a funding formula. The funding formula took the projected growth in population and added it to an Inflation Factor called the Police Price Index that reflected price changes for a typical basket of goods that EPS is required to purchase. Then an Efficiency Factor was subtracted to reflect the current economic climate, giving a final number. That final number then multiplied the base funding rate (which was the previous years total funding), guaranteeing an increase in funding every year.
However, the funding formula was paused in 2020 following an unprecedented public response that saw more than 140 people speak during a 3-day long public hearing on EPS funding following the global reaction to the murder of George Floyd. Despite this suspension, the EPS budget still increased by $11.3M the next year.
Before the funding formula was created, the EPC would bring service packages to Council for consideration and we would deliberate those asks in the context of the overall needs of the city. Council is still able to ask questions of the EPC and request data from them to inform budgetary decisions, but we do not make operational decisions or dictate how funds are used at all. Council’s oversight authority is delegated to the Commission to ensure that politics does not influence how police do their jobs.
A funding formula with automatic increases does not allow Council to consider police funding alongside all other budget lines in any given year. With budget constraints, guaranteeing increases in one area forces us to decrease the amount of money budgeted for other essential functions the City provides. This includes services such as snow and ice removal, public transit, fire resources service, recreational facilities, supporting houseless populations, and combating climate change.
With the EPS budget representing nearly a quarter of your property tax bill, I think it is incredibly important that Council understands the value of what we pay for before locking-in increases to the largest line item year-over-year. Whatever our discussion may bring, I want Edmontonians to know we will not be asking EPS to justify their spending more than we do for other City services. I simply want to work with EPC to have the approach be more consistent.
I know that we all have the same goal to keep Edmonton a safe, vibrant, and equitable place for all. I believe that Council must keep the needs of communities in mind when making financial decisions but I also want to stress that we must see the return on our investment choices without exception. I thank the Police Commission and EPS for their showing up to these tough conversations and I look forward to our City Council meeting on Friday, May 27th for further discussion.