By Trevor Busch
Rural municipalities are struggling to come up with the necessary funds to foot the bill for the province’s planned 300-member expansion of the RCMP complement.
Announced in late 2019, additional RCMP members will be added to the province’s current complement in detachments and specialized RCMP units as a key component in tackling rural crime issues. The UCP has committed $286 million over five years to add officers across the province.
The RCMP expansion will be funded in part by municipalities after the province moved to alter the current police funding arrangement. Small and rural communities in the province under a population of 5,000 which previously didn’t contribute to policing costs will be taking on the added expense involved in the initiative, expected to total $200 million over the next five years under a new provincial policing model.
“The policing side of it works for us, but a lot of the smaller municipalities are really struggling with that, and how to deal with that,” said Mayor Andrew Prokop, who pointed out that Taber maintains its own municipal police service, but the RCMP has jurisdiction in the Municipal District of Taber. “Right now, they’re only asking for the 10 per cent requirement for 2020-2021, up to 30 per cent for 2022. It’s impactive, all right, but it’s been around for awhile — the notion that it was coming — and it was just a matter of how it was going to be implemented.”
By April 2020, small municipalities will be expected to kick in 10 per cent of their annual policing costs, followed by a scheduled rise to 30 per cent by 2023. Based on an escalating model, municipalities are required to contribute $15.4 million for policing costs this year, followed by $60.3 million by 2023. The extra provincial cash raised will trigger a federal spending increase for the RCMP in Alberta, totaling $86 million by April 1, 2024.
“It’s just something you have to be able to deal with, just like us with our shortfalls in different areas. We’re just going to deal with it accordingly,” said Prokop. “In their case (small municipalities), policing is an essential service. You have to have it. So in this case, the UCP’s platform and methods of how to deal with it, putting extra officers on the road — particularly in the rural areas, to deal with the rural crime issues — there’s a cost to it, and somebody has to pay for it. That’s just the bottom line. If you’re going to attack that properly — deal with those issues properly — you have to be prepared to cover the bills, plain and simple. As harsh as that might sound, that’s just the reality.”
With the new policing cost model, the M.D. is scheduled to pay $194,241 in year one, $291,570 in year two, $388,481 in year three and $583,139 in years four and five.
Elsewhere in the region, the Village of Barnwell and Town of Vauxhall will now be required to pay for their policing. For Vauxhall, year one sees them paying $20,787, $31,203 in year two, $41,574 in year three and $62,406 in years four and five. Barnwell will see a cost of $16,721 in year one, $25,100 in year two, $33,443 in year three and $50,200 in years four and five.
“With what they’ve come up with, I think it is a fairly reasonable solution on how to adjust that,” said Prokop. “Anywhere else that was more than 5,000 population were paying for policing. That just doesn’t seem to be fair and reasonable to me overall, without adding new membership, that because you’re in smaller community you don’t pay at all but still get the benefit of policing? That has never really sat well with me, and in all fairness, it’s not right. You’re getting the benefit like we are, so why wouldn’t you think you have to pay for that? It’s really down to common sense and fairness for an end result. But because they haven’t had to in the past, it becomes difficult now that you have to come up with this money. They haven’t had to in the past, so that’s a bonus. But that’s behind us, you have to look ahead and plan accordingly.”
In 2020, the budget for the Taber Police Service will nearly top $4 million, at $3,929,651. Of that figure, salaries, wages and benefits make up $3,128,400.
“Our policing costs go up, too, every year,” said Prokop. “But we budget for that, we prepare for that, we expect that, and we live in a very safe community because of it. There’s certainly a need for policing in whatever capacity is suitable. The federal government assesses that — through Edmonton — but it’s under federal control when you’re dealing with RCMP numbers, how many you’re going to get, what kinds of shifts are going to work, et cetera. Anyone living in those municipalities has zero control over that. Here, at least you’ve got a police commission that can have some input — we have council on that — so there’s some input available that way. But we (council) certainly don’t control that. The police commission recommends or they don’t, and council approves the budget or they don’t.”
How the new officers will be distributed will be decided by new police advisory boards in consultation with the RCMP, Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, and the Rural Municipalities of Alberta.
“We have some input. But with the RCMP, you have nothing,” said Prokop. “It’s all Ottawa or Edmonton. They’ve got to realize, if they don’t know it already — I think there’s some thought that they have a say in this — but they really don’t. They can suggest, and ask, and offer input, absolutely — I would recommend and encourage that. But at the end of the day it’s a federally-related decision. We’re fortunate to have a lot more involvement with our municipality, where a municipal police force is policing the community.”
Roughly 1,600 RCMP members make up the province’s current complement. Under the existing 70-30 funding model, Alberta pays $262.4 million for policing while the federal government coughs up $112.4 million.
Not exactly a sympathetic ear, Prokop argues rural municipalities need to tighten their belts or consider project postponement in order to pay for an essential service.
“I don’t have all the answers, but I’m a realist. You have to look at it that way. You can’t just say, ‘how are we going to pay for this?’ Well, I don’t know how exactly, but plan, prioritize. Is not policing a priority? Absolutely. It’s an essential service, so you need to prioritize. Maybe that project needs to be on hold for a year, or don’t buy that new dump truck, whatever you had on the books. What’s a priority? What’s essential? This is an essential service, and you have to have it.”