Rural municipalities raising alarm over policing costs
South Peace News
The new UCP government is considering new legislation to make rural municipalities start paying for policing.
The change will affect Northern Sunrise County, the M.D. of Smoky River, and other Peace region municipalities who will have to start charging their ratepayers hundreds more a year in taxes.
There are currently 291 municipalities that don’t directly pay for policing through municipal taxes. Those 291 rural municipalities comprise about 20 per cent of Alberta’s population.
The proposed new formula will make it mandatory for each municipality to contribute money for policing using a formula based on 70 per cent equalized assessment and 30 per cent population, with some modifiers for shadow populations or higher than average crime severity indexes.
The provincial government is currently seeking feedback on the plan from municipalities through a police costing survey.
The Rural Municipalities of Alberta [RMA] has drafted a response they provided to rural municipalities as well as to the provincial government directly.
“RMA does not support any change to the current policing model based on the test costing model provided by the Government of Alberta,” the RMA submission says.
“As the consultation process does not include any discussion on how a change to police costing could enhance service levels or local input into policing, it indicates a clear downloading of costs to municipalities.”
The proposed model will not increase local levels of service.
The RMA submission says the increased costs won’t necessarily help address rural crime.
“If anything, it will reduce the level of policing in rural areas if municipalities must re-allocate funds used for enhanced policing or other public safety services to pay a share of front-line policing costs.”
The RMA is also concerned rural municipalities will end up subsidizing urban municipalities due to the new formula’s emphasis on equalized assessment.
After discussing the proposed new legislation in county council, the M.D. of Smoky River No. 130 agrees.
“We’re going with the RMA position,” Reeve Robert Brochu says.
He adds it is not the first time the idea has been floated around.
“This isn’t the first time this came up in the last 24 years. It’s come up probably three or four times. It usually comes up and it eventually gets squashed down,” Brochu says.
“If you look at what the actual cost would be and our budget, it would be 15 to 20 per cent of our budget, 10 per sent for sure. It would be crazy numbers.”
With rural municipalities like Smoky River already seeing issues collecting unpaid taxes, and with no indication yet where municipalities will find the money to start paying for policing, the M.D. hopes the idea will once again be abandoned by the provincial government.
Northern Sunrise County also agrees with the RMA’s position. County council completed the survey together at a regular council meeting, and councillors say the consultation survey asks leading questions.
“I really agree with what the RMA has done here because the survey didn’t allow proper input,” Councillor Dan Boisvert says.
“I think this is just clear downloading, point blank.”
Councillors are concerned they will have to pay for services without seeing any improvement in response times to rural crime.
“This is a provincial and federal service. Why are municipalities having to pay for this?” Northern Sunrise Reeve Carolyn Kolebaba asks.
“We don’t have a say on this. If you want us to pay, we should have a say. Otherwise we don’t have a say and we have no service, so what are we paying for?”
Kolebaba says its rare to see an officer in the county at a time when concern about rising rural crime rates is a common complaint among farmers and other area residents.
Like the M.D. of Smoky River, Northern Sunrise County has agreed to send a letter supporting the RMA position.
Northern Sunrise will be meeting with a commanding officer of the RCMP at the upcoming RMA convention, and plans to raise the issue again, if necessary.
Grimshaw’s Mayor Bob Regal says his council has not specifically discussed the issue, but would share similar concerns to the rural municipalities regarding increased costs.
“Currently as a municipality under 5,000 population we don’t pay for policing, but my fear would be that if any policing costs placed on the rural municipalities could be placed on the small urban municipalities that are currently not paying for policing,” Regal says.
The Town of Peace River already pays for policing. They spend approximately $2.1 million annually on 12 officers and three administrative assistants, with a net cost of $1.536 million according to Town administration.
“It makes up 11 per cent of our operational budget. From what our understanding is, no rurals will be paying the same amount of money we will be,” Peace River Mayor Tom Tarpey says.
He adds even though Peace River pays for 12 officers, the Town doesn’t require them to stay within the Town’s boundaries and allows local police to use their own discretion when responding to area crime.
Tarpey also points out that municipalities do have some input on service through their membership in a local RCMP advisory committee.
Councillor Orren Ford says in cases of serious crime, police provide service to rural areas.
“If you have a call for service because somebody’s pedal bike got stolen whether it’s in the Town of Peace River or if it’s out in one of our surrounding rural counties … you may not get a response to that, however, when life or a person is being affected it doesn’t matter where you are, you will get a response to that and it will be quite quick. Whether you are in the county, the MD or if you’re in the Town of Peace River, if it’s life-threatening they’re there,” Ford says.
However, Town councillor Johanna Downing says, “We do empathize.”
“Any time costs are downloaded to our municipalities it’s impacting our taxpayers.”
The issue of the proposed policing costs has already come up in the Alberta Legislature now that MLAs have resumed sitting for the fall. Premier Jason Kenney says his government will be investing more, not less, in rural crime, but he has not answered questions from the opposition parties about why his government is planning to download taxes onto rural Albertans for police costs.
The government may make a decision on the proposed legislation as early as mid-October.