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Vancouver city council votes to give police and firefighters millions of dollars to address budget shortfalls

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Vancouver city council voted Tuesday to give the Vancouver Police Department and Vancouver Fire Rescue Services millions of dollars to make up for budget shortfalls related to payroll expenses.

The vote was unanimous, with councillor Pete Fry abstaining and councillor Christine Boyle absent during the vote.

The VPD will get an additional $2.57 million to cover benefit adjustments for officers and staff, and an increase of $3.6 million for overtime costs, mostly related to decampments of homeless people along East Hastings Street and in city parks.

In April, dozens of VPD officers were on hand, mostly working overtime, as city staff conducted sweeps, removed shelters and displaced hundreds of unhoused people on East Hastings Street.

According to Deputy Chief Steve Rai, officers working OT have been assigned to similar decampments every day since.

"We've been deploying up to five members a day, every day of the year up to this point, in order for the city and city staff to clean it up as far as garbage removal and decampment,” said Rai.

"We're there in a support role, but that is an extraordinary cost being incurred outside of our operating budget and we're asking for that part to be made whole in order for us to come in on budget."

According to Rai, Vancouver police have hired 124 new officers this year alone, but he said they were not all on active duty yet.

The department also says the original budget of more than $400 million isn’t enough to cover the VPD’s entire share of benefits for officers and other staff.

In total, council approved an additional $6.07 million for the VPD.

Earlier in the same meeting, council received a progress update from a budget task force assembled by Mayor Ken Sim.

The task force’s final report, originally due in early October, is now scheduled to be delivered in mid-January.

Although mandated to find cost-saving opportunities for the city in order to reduce the burden on taxpayers, the VPD budget was not included in the scope of the task force’s work.

The VPD expenditure is the largest single item in the city’s annual budget.

In a media scrum Tuesday, CTV News asked Mayor Ken Sim if he had directed the VPD to find efficiencies to cover its budget shortfall, and he replied that he had.

“Absolutely,” he said. “At the end of the day I think its clear that we are always looking for efficiencies.”

It’s not clear what, if any, cost-saving measures the VPD enacted to reduce the amount of money it had to ask council for to cover its most recent budget shortfall.

VFRS also sought an additional $5.86 million to cover staff benefit shortfalls and overtime.

Fire Chief Karen Fry said the OT is mostly for firefighters who are covering for colleagues away on sick leave – often for mental health reasons.

"The opioid crisis is real and our staff that are going to these calls over and over again, it really is taking a toll on them,” she said.

More than 20 people signed up to speak to council about the funding requests.

None of them addressed the request from VFRS, but they all spoke out in opposition to any additional funds being allocated for police.

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