The nebulous nature of the provincial government’s discussion around police funding has the County of Wetaskiwin talking about things like their own municipal police force. The issue was discussed at the regular council meeting Oct. 8.
Assistant CAO Jeff Chipley presented the item to council. “Under the proposed Police Costing Model, all rural municipalities and any municipalities under a population of 5,000 would now begin to pay for a portion of provincial policing costs, being policing costs for general duty, traffic, and general investigation policing,” stated Chipley in his report to council.
“Regarding the amount having to be paid by municipalities, the proposal was presented on the aforementioned municipalities have to pay between a minimum of fifteen (15) to a maximum of seventy percent (70%) of total provincial policing costs, with the amount paid being on a formula that weights overall population as thirty (30%) of the total amount being paid and overall equalized assessment at seventy percent (70%) of the total amount being paid as determined through the formula.
“At the meeting, Council resolved that correspondence being sent to the two (2) Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) that represent the County of Wetaskiwin, the Honourable Richard Wilson, Minister of Indigenous Relations and MLA for Maskwacîs-Wetaskiwin, and the Honourable Jason Nixon, Minister of Environment and Parks and MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, expressing concerns relating to possible changes to the Police Funding Model.”
Chipley also presented some numbers for council to ponder should the changes be made.
“Specifically regarding costs, Administration has obtained a cost estimate range from the Government of Alberta as to the potential amounts that the County of Wetaskiwin would be liable in paying for between a minimum of fifteen (15) to a maximum of seventy percent (70%) of total provincial policing costs,” stated Chipley.
“At fifteen percent (15%), the County would be paying approximately $388,564, whereas at seventy percent (70%), the County would be paying $1,812,558. This would amount to a significant increase to the overall expenses of the County of Wetaskiwin without guarantee that a quality level of service would be provided for the funding provided.”
Chipley noted that provincial government representatives conducting webinars have been very tight-lipped about these proposed changes.
Councilors discussed the fact RCMP officers are more expensive to employ than say, for example, City of Edmonton officers. They also noted the Regina training depot is said to only graduate about 1,200 RCMP officers per year for the entire country.
Reeve Terry Van de Kraats said he feels the proposed changes are purely financial in nature. “I think I know what’s happening here,” said the reeve. “They’re looking for money.”
Councilor Kathy Rooyakkers stated, if these costs were downloaded to municipalities from the provincial government, the county may have to eliminate positions such as community peace officers to absorb the impact, and this would actually result in less police coverage for rural municipalities.
Van de Kraats wondered what the point of these proposals are if downloading means rural municipalities end up with less police coverage. The reeve said he’s fielded complaint calls from taxpayers who’ve had break and enters and were not happy with the RCMP response. Van de Kraats said there’s a feeling in the county that reporting crime is a waste of time. He said residents want to feel an RCMP presence in their community and many don’t feel that right now.
Councilor Josh Bishop wondered what it would take for the county to have its own police force. Chipley answered that a certain population level is needed.
Bishop stated the County of Wetaskiwin could partner with other municipalities to form their own police force.
Councilor Ken Adair said he’s not sure the general public knows how short-handed RCMP detachments across Alberta are.
Councilor Lyle Seely sad he didn’t think there was much the county can do right now except wait and see what the province does.
Councilor Dale Woitt said, judging by the information presented, things don’t look good for municipalities. “It’s not going to benefit us,” said Woitt.
Council accepted the report for information, and also decided to post the county’s letter of concern about this issue on their website. The letter can be viewed here: https://www.county.wetaskiwin.ab.ca/DocumentCenter/View/2961/Police-Cost-Model-Review