Sylvan Lake facing rising police costs

Town council had to dip into surplus to cover higher RCMP bill

Sylvan Lake had dipped into its savings to cover higher-than-anticipated policing costs.

The town had $1.8 million budgeted for the RCMP this year, but the actual cost will be $1.98 million. The increase is partly due to retroactive pay increases for RCMP going back to 2015.

To cover the difference, $182,000 will be taken out of a surplus reserve built up over years.

A similar shortfall is projected for next year. About $1.85 million is budgeted for police, but the actual cost will be $2.05 million.

However, looming in the background is the prospect of a huge increase in policing costs once the town reaches a population of 15,000.

Communities must pay a larger share of the cost of policing when they reach that population threshold.

For Sylvan Lake, that could boost its policing costs by $800,000, up to $2.8 million based on its current 16-member force.

Technically, communities over 15,000 pay the full cost of policing. However, the province offers financial help through an agreement with the federal government. For Sylvan Lake, that amounts to $415,000.

The 2016 federal census pegged Sylvan Lake’s population at 14,310. A municipal census was not done this year but will be considered for next year, said town communications officer Joanne Gaudet.

Should the town’s tally show a population of more than 15,000, the federal government, which oversees the RCMP, may decide Sylvan Lake must pay a bigger share.

“We watch those census numbers very closely,” said Gaudet.

When the town will be on the hook for a bigger share will depend on if the municipal census is used to set RCMP cost sharing or the government will wait until the next official federal census in 2021.

Higher levels of government have not been consistent on which population numbers they consider official when deciding on grants and other per capita calculations.

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