Saanich mayor says police chief’s contract a good deal for taxpayers

Editor’s Note: This is a letter from Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell:

On July 31, the Saanich Police Board entered into a performance-based contract with Chief Constable Bob Downie for a two-year term with an option to extend it by one year coinciding with the chief’s planned retirement in 2020.

What does this change of employment status mean and what are the implications for Saanich taxpayers?

Previously, the chief’s salary was $211,980 and indexed 230 per cent to wages that are paid to a unionized first-class constable under the collective agreement between the Saanich Police Board and the Saanich Police Association. If he were not put on contract, the Chief’s salary would have increased along with any future negotiated settlements.

The newly contracted salary has been capped at $221,711, which the police board estimates will result in a $22,700 savings over three years.

By decoupling the chief’s salary from the collective agreement, there no longer exists the conflict of interest where a chief on one side of the bargaining table benefits from the same wage increases negotiated with the unionized side. This is a first for the Saanich Police Department.

The chief was paid a $126,781 retirement allowance for 35 years of service, not a severance payment as has been widely reported. This is a pro-rated payment made to any long serving public service employee and accumulates based on years of service. By paying out this amount now, rather than at the Chief’s anticipated retirement in 2020, taxpayers no longer have to pay the the additional allowance that would have accumulated over the next three years. This payment has also been drawn from a fund set aside for this purpose.

The controversial payment of $252,010 in unused banked hours has upset many residents. This amount accumulated over many years and would have inevitably been paid out in 2020. These unused hours accumulated during the tenure of the former mayor and until February 2015, when the Board effected a new policy to prevent this from recurring. All future chiefs will be subject to contracted limits so these kind of costs no longer surprise taxpayers.

Chief Downie’s contract is a good deal for Saanich taxpayers. The change in employment status has reduced costs and has brought greater certainty on future costs, retirement dates and succession planning.

The biggest challenge facing the police board during the next three years will be the anticipated retirement of most of the police department’s senior management team.

One year ago and with my support, the provincial government expanded the size of the Saanich Police Board from five appointed members to seven in order to increase its strategic capacity.

As of 2017, the police board includes a Human Resources Standing Committee in addition to its Finance and Governance Standing Committees. The incorporation of the Human Resources committee will ensure that the board has a greater involvement in matters such as retirements and succession planning. The newly formed Human Resources committee played a large role in developing the chief’s contract, has developed a work plan for itself and will coordinate with the chief to ensure a smooth transition to the new senior management team.

These two improvements alone will ensure that the police board is better equipped to fulfill its role as an independent oversight body. We are taking a proactive approach to managing inherited financial costs and will minimize these costs going forward.

While the board was remiss in not bringing forth details of the contract forward during the scheduled summer break, I am proud of the capability and work of the Saanich Police Board members who volunteer their time to deliver the highest level of service at the lowest cost. I am equally proud of the men and women in the Saanich Police Department who put their lives at risk to keep us safe each and every day.

While they did not have any official role in the chief’s contract or its communication, which is the sole responsibility of the Saanich Police Board under the Police Act, I am also supportive of CAO Paul Thorkelsson and the staff in Saanich’s Finance Department and other staff who oversee the overall municipal budget.

Richard Atwell

Chair of the Saanich Police Board and Mayor of Saanich

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