Rural municipalities are calling on the province to freeze the amount they are being charged for policing until a thorough review has been done.
Under a new Provincial Police Service Agreement, rural municipalities and communities under 5,000 must for the first time pay a portion of policing costs. Municipalities picked up 10 per cent after April this year, 15 per cent in 2021, 20 per cent in 2022 and 30 per cent in 2023.
Province-wide, the municipal bills will total $15.4 million in 2020-21, $26.6 million in 2021-22, $37.8 million in 2022-23 and $60.3 million in 2024-25.
For many larger rural municipalities, policing will add hundreds of thousands to their budgets in the next several years and topping $1 million by 2024.
With that financial burden at stake, Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) is lobbying for a full corporate review of the police service agreement and of the overall structure, efficiency and effectiveness of the RCMP.
Municipalities also want assurances that the money they contribute stays in their district.
Questions have been raised in rural municipal council tables about where their policing contributions will be going.
RMA president Paul McLauchlin said there is also a “lag” between when funds are available and new officers are hired and assigned to their detachments.
“It does take six months, if not longer, to start putting positions in place,” said McLauchlin, who is reeve of Ponoka County. “You’re almost pre-paying for changes in service.
“There’s a lag behind, (them saying) ‘Here’s the bill,’ and ‘Here’s the change in service.’ They’re not connected right now.”
Another issue is that in many jurisdictions — Ponoka County among them — detachments are not fully staffed. There is an expectation among municipalities that their contributions were meant to pay for more police, not to simply maintain existing service levels.
At the RMA’s fall conference Lacombe County proposed a successful resolution calling on policing bills be listed as a provincial requisition so it can be broken out on county property tax bills to provide transparency.
If municipalities’ taxpayers are required to pay for education, seniors housing, designated industrial property assessments and policing “it is imperative that they know how much of their property taxes are going towards each service,” the county argued in its resolution.
Red Deer County will be on the hook for $661,269 for policing in 2021. In 2022, the bill will be $934,242 and just under $1.5 million in 2023.
Mayor Jim Wood said the county has always been willing to do its part to address rural crime, including paying for an additional officer out of the county’s own pocket already.
What concerns municipalities is the prospect of spending significant amounts of money on policing before seeing any new officers.
“We shouldn’t be paying for a service we’re not receiving yet,” said Wood, who has argued that the policing costs amount to provincial downloading at a time when municipalities are facing the same financial pressure as the province.
Wood agrees that municipalities’ contributions should stay within their jurisdiction.
“It only makes sense that we get the policing we’re paying for and that it doesn’t go elsewhere.”
Municipalities need to have input in how their policing dollars will be spent, which does not seem to be the case now, he added.
“We’re paying and we have no say. That’s one of the biggest problems we have at Red Deer County, that we don’t have any say where our police dollars are going, even locally.”
The province says it will give municipalities a voice. A new Alberta Police Advisory Board was set up that will have municipal representation.