Rural municipalities bracing for possible RCMP cost hike

If proposal from province goes through, it could cost Ponoka County big time

An online presentation regarding proposed changes to how expenses for Alberta’s provincial RCMP contract are distributed between municipalities could see Ponoka and other rural communities hit hard.

CAO Charlie Cutforth explained the suggested changes heard via a provincial government webinar on Sept. 5 to council at their meeting on Sept. 10. The proposal would counties and urban municipalities with less than 5,000 population begin to pay for policing services that they currently are not responsible for.

“The bottom line (expense) for the county is nearly $393,000, based on our equalized assessment,” he stated.

“This is not based on demand for service, but seems they looked around and thought of who would be available to pay.

“It also doesn’t change the level of service or increase the number of members. It’s purely a matter of the rurals kindly start paying.”

That amount was calculated by taking 30 per cent of the county’s equalized assessment, estimated at $3.1 billion.

“There are many that are higher than us and a lot considerably less,” said Cutforth, who added this was the cost when using the county’s population of 9,806.

Currently, Ponoka County is one of the few rural municipalities that put up funds to help with enhanced RCMP policing positions — paying a portion of the salaries for two enhanced positions, a school resource officer and a general investigation officer.

Coun. Mark Matejka asked if the proposal would change anything for Ponoka, but was amazed that is seems to be just another form of taxing municipalities.

Cutforth added this downloading of costs on municipalities might be something the county will have to get used to.

“It won’t change any of the service levels at Ponoka or Rimbey or Bashaw. However, this will mean Rimbey will be hit with added policing costs,” added Cutforth.

“Currently, our cost is $200,000 for the two enhanced positions and if this goes through, it could mean an increase of $200,000 over our current budget.”

Reeve Paul McLauchlin mentioned what was interesting about this proposal, from what he has heard through discussions at the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA), is that the organization which represents urban municipalities — like Rimbey and Ponoka — has been pushing this proposal.

“But to the small town, it’s become a huge wedge because it hits them on both sides. I believe this is like a trial balloon, but it will turn into something,” he said, adding the proposal is likely tied to the government attempting to hit the $600 million in annual savings that was announced in the finance panel’s report released this month.

As this is just the first proposal, there has been plenty of push-back from many rural municipalities and small towns. However, Cutforth believes it won’t be too long before this comes to pass.

“The government seems very committed to making this happen. It’s about making the costs of policing more fair,” he stated.

“Though, the thing that bothers us and one that Wetaskiwin put forward as a very good question — What about municipalities that have a higher rate of crime statistics because of their proximity to reserves?”

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