Jonathan Sher’s Police Budget Half-Truth


Today’s newspaper article (‘Police budget under fire‘; London Free Press; 2008/02/04) appears to be another vainglorious attempt to stir up local ratepayers and drive a wedge between police and local government.

Different Truths 
Don’t be too quick to accept what’s presented to you. Yes, it’s true that the police budget is taking up a larger proportion of the total city budget. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the increased police budget is irresponsible or even unreasonable. It’s every bit as possible that it simply reflects the fact that the rest of the city budget may not be increasing as it should be. You may not want to hear that, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t true.

What may not be sustainable, is local government’s ability to shoulder the cost so long as it is dependent upon the outdated property tax system. But Mr. Sher makes no effort to remind us of that fact.

Mr. Sher quotes Police Chief Faulkner as saying that “Policing is very expensive.” Well, I’d like to remind Mr. Sher and London City Council that not policing is even more expensive. The cost which would result from increased violence and property crimes would make current expenditures pale in comparison.

It’s been 6 years since I appeared before City Council’s Community & Protective Services Committee to argue for increased police funding (when nobody else was), but my position has not changed since then. Read the transcript HERE.

The real focus needs to continue to be on funding of municipalities. I addressed the audience during Jay Stanford’s recent Waste Diversion Open House at Laurier S.S. when their understandable upset over rising property tax increases inappropriately manifested itself in a criticism of the perceived cost of environmental initiatives. Here is my recollection of what I said…

In the beginning, before money even existed, the way that people measured their wealth was in land, and the ability of that land to produce crops and sustain livestock. We were an overwhelmingly rural society. Then, as now, there was a need to collect from citizens a share of those costs which were incurred for the whole community. Those taxes were in the form of potatoes, corn, goats, etc. Over the years, property tax has fulfilled it’s purpose for local communities pretty well. But we have made a transition from a rural society to a predominantly urban one. And that trend continues. The property tax system is now broken. It can no longer support all of the costs which city dwellers place upon it. There needs to be a new revenue source for cities. Federal and provincial governments do not suffer the same problem. They have multiple ways in which to raise revenue. The federal government has been awash in our taxdollars for quite some time. Year after year it declares surplus budgets. The fiscal health of the provinces is not so clear-cut, because of the convoluted transfer payments between each, division of responsibilities, etc. But one unmistakable fact remains – provinces has the ability to raise more revenue whenever they need to. Recently, the City of Toronto was given some special new powers as a result of it’s continued budget deficits and advocacy. But other cities have not been treated as fairly. If citizens want to bemoan the seemingly continuous increase in their property taxes, and I fully understand their angst, they must start to appreciate who the real villians are. Don’t moan and groan at City Hall. Take your frustration out on the MPPs and MPs who deserve it. Tell them that we need and demand a New Deal. One that will sustain our changed lifestyle instead of pitting us one against the other.

Submitted 2008/02/04 5:15 a.m. to the London Free Press as a ‘Point of View’ along with this restriction:
Please view my original post ( 2008/02/04/jonathan-shers-police-budget-half-truth/) and consider publishing it unedited as a POV. If you have reasons for editing it, I am willing to discuss that possibility, but will not surrender that right to you without justification. Submission of this article DOES NOT imply such consent.

Other Links:
2008/02/12 – Ottawa Citizen: Tax land, not homes
2008/02/12 – Globe & Mail: Miller Plays Politics


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2 Responses to “Jonathan Sher’s Police Budget Half-Truth”

  1. Jim Horne Says:

    An analysis that I did of $100K plus salaries paid to all city employees between 1996 and 2006 brought to light the rapid growth in high priced city employees (7 in 1996 and 71 in 2006). Also, it showed that the main component of the growth in $100K plus salaries was city hall staff and not essential services (police, fire, ambulance).

    In 2006 more than 60% of $100K salaries were city employees. Less than 40% of the $100K salaries were essential services. This situation is indicative of years and years of politicians giving priority to their pet projects at the expense of essential services and needed infrastructure repair and replacement projects.

    Taxpayers must compel city politicians to realign the city’s priorities. New taxes are NOT the answer. Good governance is.

  2. fowgre Says:

    Jim: I don’t believe that it has to be either/or. Certainly, I support your desire for better governance. I’m attending the meetings of the Governance Task Force, I’m making submissions to them, I’m publicly urging other citizens to do the same. I’ve poured myself into our fledgling community association and I’m trying to get local citizens more involved in the process of local government. But we have to get past this infighting that’s going on. You and I shouldn’t be at odds over where local government’s restricted resources ought best be spent. We first need to get property taxes off the backs of local citizens and give London the same revenue-generating income tax power as the federal and provincial governments. Only after taxes are more fairly assessed based upon ability to pay instead of hammering limited-income property owners will local citizens be able to engage one another in a civil, reasoned discourse about where spending priorities ought to be. With respect to your analysis, I’m not sure that the data I see on your site is enough to satisfy my curiosity. I’d like to see a finer breakdown by individual employee, historical salary trend, job description, etc. I will tell you this, and I’m not sure that you and I might not be a lot closer on this subject than what you might expect… I have long advocated setting salaries and increases of elected reps at some fixed multiple of what social assistance payments are. And I’d have no problem advocating the same thing for city employees. I often lobby local politicians to do more with less (like using mailing lists, RSS, etc. instead of spending millions on 311). And in at least one of my submissions to the Governance Task Force I urged them to keep it simple and functional, instead of expensive with lots of bells and whistles. Finally, thanks very much for your comment. I appreciate your willingness to share.

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