By Trevor Busch
With crime rates escalating and the community struggling with rising drug problems, the Town of Taber has approved the hiring of two new officers increasing the complement of the Taber Police Service from 15 to 17.
“Hearing from the chief of police (Graham Abela) and the recommendation from the complete commission, with all the suggestions behind the need for that, it’s really something you can’t not support. You have to support that,” said Mayor Andrew Prokop. “The chief did a very good presentation, and the commission as well, the chair (Ken Holst) was part of that, and we’d heard from the commission prior to that. We have two council reps on the commission, and with their input and explanation, it makes sense. It was a cost obviously that wasn’t initially budgeted — one was budgeted for 2021 — I guess if you want to get technical, for one year it’s one new member, but it’s going to increase the complement, that’s correct.”
Following closed session discussion on June 10, council approved a motion to agree to increase the operational strength of the Taber Police Service by two officers, and directed administration to allocate the necessary funds to the 2019 Taber Municipal Police Commission (TMPC) budget. According to the minutes of the meeting, the vote was not unanimous.
After the in camera portion of the TMPC meeting on April 17, the commission had directed Abela and Holst to present an operational strength business case to town council in closed session. Prokop described some of the arguments that were presented to council as justification for the increase in the service’s complement.
“Just due to crime rate going on in the community in the last several months, and just the community and area, the high increase in the crime rate — due to the times, we’re still coming out of a recession. I guess that’s always a factor — the drugs — moreso in Lethbridge and area, it’s been much more prevalent,” said Prokop. “But we’re in the area — we’re 30 miles away — so of course there’s going to be a little spill-over that way. I believe that’s part of it. But it’s a combination of things. It’s crime-related — statistics are up. Police officers are required to spend more time to prepare for court, with the documentation required, their time is that much more limited on the street because of those restrictions and the necessary time that’s needed. It’s a sign of the times.”
Rising population figures also played a role in the decision, added Prokop.
“That always factors in. We don’t know — we’re due for a census next year in 2020 — but I believe we’re in that 9,000 range for sure. And it may be higher, I don’t know. You have to look at other communities — Lethbridge has grown, Coaldale has grown — it’s what’s happening in the region, and so of course you’re going to have more potential problem scenarios, and that’s exactly what’s happening.”
The financial implication of the decision for the municipality and taxpayers will amount to an increase of roughly $300,000 in salary and benefits.
“With all of the training and benefits et cetera, I think it’s in the $150,000 neighbourhood per (officer),” said Prokop. “That’s not their wage, but with benefits and training and everything attached to it, it’s around the $150,000 mark.”
The 2018 budget for the TPS rang in at $3,777,862, which was funded through taxes ($2,557,946, or 68 per cent), government grants ($551,832, or 15 per cent), fine revenue ($547,500, or 14 per cent), and sales and user fees ($120,584, or three per cent).
Of this expenditure, salaries and benefits are by far the greatest percentage of dollars spent ($2,974,522, or 79 per cent), followed by contracted and general services ($277,039, or seven per cent), amortization ($190,001, or five per cent), materials, goods and supplies ($144,700), purchases from other governments ($76,000), and internal charges ($115,600, or three per cent). Actual 2018 expenses were $3,564,874, which was $212,988 under budget.
“We do have a very effective and efficient police service as it is, but I think this will just enhance things that much more,” said Prokop. “Ultimately, we’re looking to enhance the police service complement to ensure an overall safe community all the way around as best we can, and so that’s where the need came in looking at long term. With everything that was presented, it’s one of those no-brainers, you have to support it.”
In April, the Taber Police Association and the Town of Taber inked a new three-year collective agreement that will see officers receive a total 5.25 per cent salary increase by 2021. Combining the previous contract with the new contract, officers will have seen a 10.75 per cent salary increase over six years.
TMPC chair Holst was unable to be reached for comment on the June 10 decision, while Chief Abela is on holidays until July 15.
Prokop indicated the new officers are expected to be hired by January 2020.
“Again, when you’ve got your commission, and two councillors that are part of that commission supporting that and recommending that strongly with the presentation — as I said, it’s something that you have to support. And we did.”