Municipalities facing police bills hoping for a provincial decision soon

Rural and small municipalities may be asked to cover from 15 to 70 per cent of police costs

Rural municipalities say they need to know soon whether they will be expected to pick up a share of policing costs, said a central Alberta reeve.

“The only thing we’ve heard is it will be coming out ‘soon’ so we can plan our budgets, said Clearwater County Reeve Tim Hoven, who added the province has said it wants to start collecting revenues as part of its April budget.

“Are they going to change their minds? Maybe. Who knows?”

The province has proposed counties, municipal districts and communities under 5,000 people, which don’t now pay for policing, be required to pick up a share of costs.

They could be required to pay anywhere from 15 to 70 per cent of policing expenses.

Municipalities will not relish making last-minute budget adjustments to accommodate expenses as significant as policing.

“It’s a complicated thing. It takes us months to throw our budget numbers together,” said Hoven.

The county plans to vote on its 2020 budget Dec. 17, and it needs some time to crunch the numbers again if new policing costs must be added.

“We need time to really digest it and adjust on the basis of those costs.”

Lacombe County manager Tim Timmons said they too want some answers before they vote on their interim 2020 budget Friday.

“At this time, (that budget) does not include any funding for policing,” said Timmons. “We need to know sooner than later.”

Timmons said it is still unclear if the province will go through with its plan to charge rural and small communities for policing. If it does happen, the questions become: what percentage will each municipality have to pay, and will it be phased in?

Municipalities have expressed concern money they are already spending on enhanced policing and other support will not be recognized when cost-sharing calculations are made.

A letter from Alberta Justice to Lacombe County suggested — while saying a final decision had not been made — money already being spent on policing would be considered.

Lacombe County, along with Red Deer and Ponoka counties, each pay for an RCMP investigator out of their pockets to aid the fight against rural crime.

But Hoven said Clearwater County has not heard those kinds of assurances so far.

“That’s good news, if that’s true. We have not seen anything like that.”

Clearwater funds three-and-a-half support positions at the Rocky Mountain House RCMP detachment.

“We’d like to see those admin positions recognized as how we contribute towards policing. The main goal is to get more police out of the desks and in the vehicles on the street to stop crime,” said Hoven.

The county also has three community peace officers, and Hoven does not want to see a scenario where council must consider cutting back there to pay for policing elsewhere.

“We need those peace officers on the road as well doing their job.”

Alberta Justice was reached for comment, but said an update could not be provided until Monday.

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