Province ‘softens the blow’

Towns like High Prairie will not have to pay for extra policing costs until 2021, but they will still have to pay.

Government defers rural policing payments

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

Rural municipalities will have some time to come up with the money for new policing costs.

In a letter dated Jan. 20, Minister of Justice Doug Schweitzer wrote to Rural Municipalities of Alberta [RMA] President Al Kemmere regarding RMA’s requests for changes to the new provincial police funding model. He wrote the bill will be deferred until 2021.

Earlier, Schweitzer announced 300 more police officers and 200 more support staff will be hired at a cost of $286 million over the next five years.

Rural municipalities and communities with under 5,000 people will have to start paying an increasing share of the new funding model as it is phased in, with communities contributing 10 per cent of costs in 2020, 15 per cent in 2021, 20 per cent in 2022, and 30 per cent in 2023.

The new funding model takes effect on April 1.

The change affects the majority of communities in the north.

Schweitzer writes the government will still invoice each municipalities for policing costs for the full provincial fiscal year.”

“My colleagues in Municipal Affairs affirm that municipalities will still have to accrue an appropriate amount for policing costs in their 2020 statements. We have also been advised that given the limited timeline, municipalities will have a cash flow problem if the provincial policing invoice was due prior to Dec. 31, 2020.”

The decision to delay payment was made in part due to the fact some municipalities would have to borrow money or draw on reserves to pay the policing bill.

“By delaying the billing, it allows municipalities to include the actual expenditure in their 2021 annual budget and this would provide time to make adjustments on taxes to collect the revenue required to pay the invoice.

“I sincerely hope that this timing will alleviate some of the concerns regarding the police funding model’s impact on municipal budget planning for 2021.”

Northern Sunrise County council discussed the letter at their regular Jan. 28 council meeting, where they eventually received it for information.

CAO Cindy Millar says the deferred payment mainly means municipalities will have to pay two years in a row at once.

“I agree that it doesn’t really change much,” says Councillor Dan Boisvert.

The deferred cost also came up at the most recent RCMP Regional Community Advisory Committee meeting on Jan. 29. Northern Sunrise County Councillor Corinna Williams, who is also chair of the Northern Sunrise Rural Crime Watch Association, spoke to the update.

“It’s been deferred until 2021, then there’s going to be a one time double payment. So it’s not really a deferred, they’re just trying to soften the blow,” Williams says.

Director of Protective Services Dave Leblanc asked Williams, “Does that guarantee an officer in the county or is that just sharing the costs of the existing officers we have?”

Williams says there is still no information about more officers.

“We just know we’re going to pay,” Williams says.

Grimshaw Mayor Bob Regal, who was also at the advisory committee meeting, says he attended a meeting with other Northern Alberta elected leaders where the superintendent from the RCMP western division did a presentation on the issue.

“The feedback that she gave us is they’re going to look at which detachments require the bodies, and it’s going to be done on a rating system,” Regal says.

“Because we need bodies here, we likely will see [more officers], but again there’s no cut and dried.”

Regal says more staff to help write reports may also be added so officers can stay in the field, but Sgt. Dave Browne says some progress has already been made on that front through the use of a data centre where police can call in their reports.

Browne adds the average frontline officer has no more information on the government’s decisions than the general public.

He says the Peace River detachment currently has two new recruits who are two months into their service, and with three experienced members going to other detachments, four new recruits will be coming to town in February and March.

“It’s going to be a very junior crew with lots of new faces over the coming months,” Browne says.

Share this post