Hess Village bar and restaurant owners are getting a break on the extra policing costs they have been assessed over the years. They now will split a $48,000 tab instead of the $115,000 they had been paying in past. With restaurants and clubs springing up all over town, Hess village has seen a sharp reduction in business in recent years, and the Hamilton Police Service has reluctantly agreed that a lower level of policing is justified. Nonetheless, in our view, any special levy on any particular district in the city is unjustified. As Ward Two councillor Jason Farr pointed out, Hamilton is the only city in Canada that imposes a policing surcharge on a particular neighbourhood. Using the same logic could it be argued that the taxpayers in say, Ward Three should pay more because the crime rate in the inner city is higher than in a suburban ward? The fact is that policing is a fundamental service, like education or health care that benefits the entire community, and even though usage of the service may vary from location to location, the cost should be borne equally. That is why our health care system doesn’t tack a surcharge on the elderly who make disproportionate use of the service.
Secondly, the police don’t need the money. In a lively debate last year over the proposed funding formula for the new Police Forensic Building it was revealed that $4.5 Million of the costs would come from operating surpluses the HPS rang up in 2014 and 2015. At the time of their presentation to council these budgets were described as “bare bones.” In addition there was the controversial $1.3 Million windfall the Service scored for policing the Pan Am Games. That surplus was achieved by billing the Games for a budgeted amount as opposed to actual out-of-pocket expenses as stipulated in the Pan Am contract. In addition, the books show Hamilton Police Services sitting on cash reserves of $24 Million, half of which are for Sick Leave and Health costs– reserves which appear to be steadily growing without being tapped. It is another example where council is being lulled into a false sense of security with the assurance that “there is no impact on the tax levy.” That only makes sense if you ignore the possibility that there actually might be savings achievable in some of these public agencies.