The Toronto Police Services board has voted unanimously in favour of a budget that will eclipse the $1-billion mark for the first time ever.

The initial budget request for 2016 was $1.036 billion, however that number was reduced on three separate occasions after the board sent Police Chief Mark Saunders back to the drawing table to find additional savings. The new budget is now $30 million less than the initial request, standing at $1.006 billion. That represents an extra $27 million (2.76 per cent) than last year’s budget which was set at $979.7 million.

It should be noted that $21.2 million of that increase is attributed to rising labour costs that stem from the new collective agreement with the Toronto Police Association.

In documents given to the board today, Saunders pointed out that of the $263.4 million in TPS budget increases since 2006, about 89 per cent ($235.1 million) has been linked to salary and benefit increases from various collective agreements.

Speaking with reporters at police headquarters following the passing of the budget on Thursday, Saunders said there is just “no silver bullet” to reducing the cost of policing.

However, the police chief did vow to look at “leveraging technology” and offloading some of the police’s workload onto other agencies as a way to reduce costs going forward.

“Right now we are working on an existing model. I have to look and explore very, very carefully what the new model should look like,” he said. “I have the largest municipal police organization in Canada. In order to move those parts you can’t do it overnight. It is going to take a lot of process to do it and I want to do it right. I am not going to make change for the sake of making change; that is a failure. I am going to make change because it is sustainable, it is the right thing for Toronto and because it enhances safety.”

Budget increases not sustainable: Tory

The approval of the police budget for 2016 comes as the TPS board gets set to consider a KPMG report next month that reportedly proposes drastic cost-cutting measures.

Though the $200,000 report has not yet been publically released, Mayor John Tory told reporters on Thursday that it suggests “fundamental changes” that would see duties that are currently performed by police undertaken by civilian employees instead.

One of the items, Tory said, suggests having civilian employees respond to stolen vehicle reports and collect information instead of officers.

The Toronto Star has also said that the report recommends closing all 17 police divisions across the city and replacing them with less costly “storefront” operations.

“We can’t carry on with the status quo,” Tory said. “We have to make changes in the way we police and modernize it and we have to constrain the growing cost going forward.”

Though Tory said that some of the simpler recommendations in the KPMG report were considered as part of this year’s budget deliberations, he said the vast majority of them are complex and will require further study.

“Most of the issues that are going to bring about the biggest change are issues that are complicated,” he said. “They are going to take some time to implement but we have got to get on with it and that is exactly what we are doing.”

The budget that Saunders tabled today includes a uniformed police establishment of 5,448 officers, which is a reduction of 14 from the current standard.

The budget also includes a civilian employee establishment of 2,230, which is an increase of 12.

The $9.1 million in additional savings that Saunders was able to find following the request from the board in October, includes $2.4 million from additional revenue, $2.1 million from deferring payments to reserve funds and $1 million each from lower benefits cost and reducing premium pay, such as overtime.

Poll finds little support for further spending on policing

While the TPS board considered yet another budgetary increase on Thursday, albeit smaller than the one initially proposed, a new poll suggested that Ontarians may not be in favour of spending more taxpayer dollars on policing.

The Mainstreet Research poll commissioned by the African Canadian Legal Clinic asked respondents where they would prefer that future tax dollars go, given criticism over rising police budgets.

A total of 53 per cent of respondents said that they would prefer additional taxpayer dollars be directed towards social services while only 23 per cent said that money should be put towards policing. The remaining 24 per cent of respondents said they are not sure.

Support for increased spending on social services was highest in East Toronto (56 per cent) and in the downtown core (54 per cent). Meanwhile, support for increased police spending tended to be higher in the 905 (25 per cent) than in Toronto itself (22 per cent).

A total of 2,506 Ontario residents were surveyed.

“I think people are aware generally that crime rates are coming down, so when they see police budgets year over year always increasing it doesn’t mesh with their ideas of how safety in their city is being addressed,” Mainstreet Research President and CEO Quito Maggi told CP24. “I think more people want to see money going towards social services to address the health and safety of the community as opposed to more policing.

Remember for instant breaking news follow @cp24 on Twitter.