Olympic related policing costs an unknown budget risk for Vancouver

Post by Daniel Fontaine in ,

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GlobalTV's Ted Chernecki wonders what the real cost of 2010 Games security will be

There will likely be a lot of anxiety over at Vancouver City Hall in the coming weeks as council grapples with which programs they must cut in order to keep taxes as low as possible. If they cut enough, it should result in businesses paying 0% increase this year while residential homeowners pay 4%. That assumes Vision continues with the NPA's previous policy of "tax shifting" next year.

Like any good doctor, City Manager Penny Ballem has now made her diagnosis. She believes the city bureaucracy has become too bloated. Therefore, the time has come to surgically cut into not only the fat, but a bit of the bone too. Popular programs such as graffiti removal and the petting zoo at Stanley Park are heading for the chopping block.

Despite all of Ballem’s best efforts, there is one elephant in the room that few people are willing to talk about. It’s the dark cloud on the horizon that could very well blow apart Ballem’s best efforts to balance the 2010 budget. It’s called the Olympic and Paralympic Games policing costs. As the GlobalTV story from last night suggests, no one at any level of government really knows what the bill for security will be.

If you’ve been listening closely to Chief Constable Jim Chu lately, he indicated the police didn't need to fill all the positions the previous NPA government approved for them last year. By delaying the hiring, he says he’s doing his part to help balance the 2010 budget. He claims he could do so because there are plenty of police officers of retirement age who are prepared to hold off freedom 55 until the Olympics/Paralympics Games are over.

It goes without saying the upcoming Games will focus heavily on security. Clearly the Vancouver Police Department have played and will continue to play a very significant role in helping to keep both citizens and tourists safe throughout the city. This includes at both official and non-official venues. All of this Olympic security is expected to come with a hefty price tag. The real question is who's going to foot the bill?

The City of Vancouver is indemnified by senior levels of government for any security costs incurred beyond what is considered “normal policing”. However, the devil is in the details. Will the massive overtime bill the VPD is about to send to Penny Ballem’s office next March going to be fully covered by the Provincial or Federal Governments? Given the current fiscal situation, you can expect they won't be prepared to hand over a blank cheque to Vancouver.

Rather, when Vision sends the VPD bills up the line there will most likely be disputes as to how much of it was “normal policing” vs “Olympic policing”. Take for example the policing costs related to the two LiveCity sites being planned for downtown Vancouver. Will the cost of policing those Olympic-related venues be covered by the Province or the City? How will this be determined?

There are a number of references to the Participation Agreement which was signed between the NDP provincial government and the NPA civic government back on November 12, 1998. Vancouver's website states:

Pursuant to the Multi-Party Agreement, the City will also:

  • provide those services that are normally provided by the City within its jurisdiction and its financial framework.

  • provide a level of police service within the City's financial framework and approved budgets.

  • forgo any revenue lost by the City due to activities approved by the City relating to the 2010 Winter Games, including rent for City-owned venues, and parking revenues for City parking lots and streets.

The City's Olympic strategic plan also makes several references to the City's obligation regarding policing costs:

As the official Host City, the City has various obligations related to hosting the Games, which include playing a role in the planning and delivery of transportation, security, emergency planning, and participating in the protection of the Olympic brand and marks.

While VANOC is ultimately responsible for ensuring the appropriate level of all services within Olympic venue zones (collectively termed the “Olympic Domain”), it is the City that is responsible for providing normal levels of municipal service outside of Olympic Domain (the “Urban Domain”). The City, VANOC and various other service providers will work closely to optimise the integration of operations within and between these two domains.

The City makes one additional reference to what their security obligations are during the Games:

The City will deliver a normal level of municipal services in both domains. Service agreements will be negotiated for any involvement the City will have within the Olympic Domain, and for services in the Urban Domain that are higher than levels normally provided by the City.

We’ve spoken to a few police officers (and/or their family members) over the last few months and they are telling us they expect to cash in on a massive overtime windfall during the Games. Many of the officers are likely holding off retirement in the hopes of not only policing a once- in-a-lifetime event, but also to cash in on what will be a lucrative event.

CityCaucus.com was first to break the story that over 345 police officers in the VPD were earning in excess of $100,000 per year in salary in 2008. A few of them were actually earning in excess of $200,000. Most of that could be attributed to working excessive amounts of overtime. That's why it's easy to understand why there is great appeal in working double time during both the Olympics and Paralympic Games.

So while Ballem and her Visionistas are busy shutting down the Bloedel Conservatory and the Stanley Park petting zoo, it may all be for not if the policing overtime bills end up blowing the city budget.

It is crucial that Mayor Gregor Robertson clarify before the Games just exactly what senior levels of government are prepared to kick in when it comes to VPD costs. If he doesn’t get these assurances soon, he just may find that next year’s budget looks even worse than the one that preceded it.

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You can never have 100 per cent security. But so long as taxpayers are covering the bills for a "whatever-it-takes" effort, you can guarantee that police will take advantage of an unprecedented opportunity to pad their bank accounts.

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