County of Wetaskiwin wants to ensure its police money is well spent

County of Wetaskiwin wants to ensure its police money is well spent

County says many questions unanswered about province’s police plans

Policing will cost County of Wetaskiwin $855,000 a year by 2023.

Reeve Terry Van de Kraats wants to ensure the county is getting a bang for its buck.

“We want to see the value in the dollars spent,” said Van de Kraats on Thursday.

The province has announced it wants rural and small municipalities under 5,000 people — which weren’t previously required to pay for policing — pick up a share of the cost starting with 10 per cent this year and rising to 30 per cent in three years.

For Wetaskiwin County, its policing bill will be $285,000 this year, increasing to $427,500 next year, $570,000 in 2021-22 and $855,000 in 2022-23.

As part of its policing overhaul, the province has also promised to hire 300 new officers and 200 support staff over the next few years.

Where the money will be going and who will see more officers on the beat in their areas remains unclear and County of Wetaskiwin is among those looking for clarity. The county has lined up meetings with a senior RCMP officer and Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer to get some answers and raised its concerns in a recent letter to the minister and Premier Jason Kenney.

“Right now, the only thing we’ve really heard from the province is that all this money is going towards more boots on the ground,” said county assistant chief administrative officer Jeff Chipley on Thursday.

“The province hasn’t specifically said where these boots are going to be.”

“If we’re putting in X number of dollars does that mean we’re getting X number of resources within our area? Right now, we’re just led to believe it’s all going into one gigantic provincial pot and the province is going to decide where these resources go, which may or may not be to the benefit of the county or any other municipality that is required to pay.”

“We want to ensure we’re getting value for money. If we’re putting in hundreds of thousands of dollars into police resources we should be able to see a value for that especially where our residents are seeing a rash of rural crime.”

If an urban municipality boosts its policing budget, it is clear where the money is getting spent and what benefits are expected, he said.

“Under the current model the province is moving forward with, we don’t have any guarantee or any idea if that is going to work.”

Also, at issue is what happens with the money many rural municipalities, including County of Wetaskiwin, are already spending on what is known as enhanced policing and for RCMP civilian support staff.

The county is spending $270,000 each year to cover the cost of an extra police officer who focuses on rural areas, and a civilian crime analyst.

“Whatever positions we pay into right now, we want to have credit for,” said Van de Kraats.

The contract for the enhanced policing position expires in 2021 and the county wants to ensure that continues despite a provincial freeze that is in place on hiring new or renewing existing enhanced policing positions while the police review is underway.