File photo by ADVOCATE staff Red Deer RCMP officer examines collision debris.

Police funding shortfall questioned by Red Deer city councillor

Buck Buchanan complains cities are bearing almost all policing costs

With eight more RCMP officers proposed in the 2018 budget, the funding “inequity” between urban and rural policing was raised by a Red Deer city councillor.

Why should the City of Red Deer pay 90 per cent of its policing costs when Red Deer County and many other rural municipalities get the whole load covered by the province, questioned Coun. Buck Buchanan.

When each new officer costs about $153,000, annually, the eight would be a significant additional cost to Red Deer taxpayers – about $1.2 million, explained Buchanan, who is a retired RCMP officer.

The budget discussion around adding the extra officers – which would boost the local RCMP force to 168 officers – won’t happen until late next week.

But Buchanan questioned the provincial funding discrepancy between rural and urban areas during a break in Wednesday’s budget meeting.

He noted Red Deer taxpayers have been paying about $25 million in RCMP salaries every year, and an additional $10 million for municipal peace officers.

Many Alberta cities have been lobbying the province to address this inequity. Buchanan said some smaller cities have even delayed doing a census because at 5,000 people they are required to cover 70 per cent of policing costs, while at a population of 15,000 they must cover 90 per cent.

A specific oddity about the way the province funds Red Deer policing came up during budget deliberations.

Buchanan noted the province has chosen to pay for three RCMP salaries in Red Deer, but really covers just under two salaries. This leaves the city to pick up an annual shortfall.

In 2018, the shortfall will amount to $159,000, which was categorized in the budget as “one-time funding.” Since it occurs every year, Buchanan, “this not one-time funding. This is every time funding.”

He suggested it be rolled into the base budget, along with the rest of the city’s portion of RCMP costs.

But City Manager Craig Curtis responded it remains in this category because “we are eternally optimistic” – drawing a laugh from council.

Funding the shortfall was approved by council.

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