Hamilton Police takes the heat at budget committee meeting

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Published January 16, 2024 at 8:48 pm

Hamilton City Hall

A Hamilton Police budget ask of $20 million more than last year took most of the heat from the 50-plus delegates on hand at the General Issues Committee budget meeting at City Hall Tuesday afternoon, with the overwhelming consensus that the City turn down the request.

“A higher police budget has not solved the opioid crisis or homelessness,” said Vic Wojciechowska, who serves as the president of Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 3906, which represents McMaster University’s academic workers. “It’s not working. We have an opportunity to do things differently.”

Wojciechowska said data used by police in Hamilton is “easily manipulated” to justify budget increases every year but the impact at street level never changes. “Our government would rather criminalize poverty than deal with it,” she said, noting that every death from the growing opioid crisis “is a person with a story.”

Dr. Emily Scherzinger, a faculty member at McMaster, said the “best solution” to the homelessness and opioid crisis facing Hamilton is to “provide people support” instead of raiding encampments. “The Hamilton Police does not deserve a budget increase.”

The proposed City of Hamilton 2024 Operating and Capital Budget includes is calling for a 7.9 per cent tax increase, with 4.3 per cent allocated to existing services and more than $19 million in new investments available for housing and homelessness initiatives.

An additional 3.6 tax hike is to cover the impacts of provincial legislation, with most of that to make up for the loss of development charges as part of the provincial government’s Bill 23 imposed last year.

A further one per cent tax increase is to pay for provincial hospital redevelopment.

Overall, the 2024 proposed budget represents an average residential property tax increase $382 per household.

Hamilton Police is asking for $213 million for 2024, with $13 million of that required under the Police Services Act. Chief Frank Bergen called it a “maintenance budget,” with the ask representing about 18 per cent of the City’s total budget.

The request was approved by the City’s Police Services budget by a 4-2 vote, with one of those dissenting votes coming from Ward 2 Councillor Cameron Kroetsch, who also sits on the budget committee.

Evan Ubene, another of the delegations Tuesday, called the budget request by the police “unacceptable,” while Emily Katz told the committee the police budget is “already high and disproportionate” to what citizens need from their police service.

“Increasing the police budget doesn’t help the homeless situation. It only adds to their hurdles.”

Community activist group Hamilton Acorn, which has been standing up for tenants and the housing situation in the city since 2017, had at least eight delegations at the meeting Tuesday. The group is calling for Hamilton to approve a series of bylaws to protect tenants vulnerable to ‘renoviction’ practices and to fund a tenant support program.

The next step for the budget process will happen Friday, with presentations from external economist and staff, followed by presentations from City departments and boards and agencies next week before the document comes back to the General Issues Committee January 30.

The budget, which was originally presented in September asking for a 14.2 per cent property tax hike, is scheduled for final approval February 15.

A full overview of the proposed Budget is available at hamilton.ca/budget2024.

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