Foothills County council raised concerns that the provincial government’s intent to download police funding to municipalities would negatively impact rural communities.
Rural municipalities are facing a rock-and-hard-place scenario under the province’s proposed police costing model, stuck between decreasing police services and raising taxes to adjust for the cuts in funding.
The model was designed as part of the UCP government’s review on the funding formula for frontline RCMP police services. It was introduced to municipalities during a webinar with the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General’s office on Sept. 6.
Ryan Payne, deputy CAO for Foothills County, presented his concerns at the Sept. 18 council meeting. He said the new formula could result in the County facing additional annual costs reaching a potential of $4.5 million to maintain its police service.
Based on a cost recovery formula, the UCP government’s funding model aims to share the RCMP services cost across the province, including the rural municipalities where policing is covered in full by the provincial government under the existing formula.
Payne said that Foothills County and many other municipal districts are already paying substantial fees for separate policing services under the Enhanced Policing program, and the new model’s downloading would jeopardize those services. At present Foothills County pays $250,000 a year for the enhanced program.
“If the province is looking at going this way, that could in turn see some of these services dry up because those funds would need to be redirected into off-setting these additional costs,” he said.
Without some of those services, Payne said there would be a decrease in service for the County, which would then translate into a decrease in service for the Towns, which benefit from County officers.
“Then that trickles down into the RCMP staff not seeing the shifts that they’re picking up in their off time (through Enhanced Policing), and then into money that could be coming back into the economy,” he said.
“It’s a whole kind of reciprocal issue of downloading that’s not really favourable to rural communities.”
The model also fails to account for detachments located in the urban jurisdictions using the majority of frontline policing service compared to the rural detachments, said Payne.
The RMA (Rural Municipalities of Alberta association) submitted feedback expressing similar concerns with the costing model following the webinar, he said, taking the position that police funding should be based on the service received by the municipality, not the municipality's ability to pay.
“If the province is saying ‘hey, we’re going to add officers and we’d like you to be on the hook for a certain percentage of that cost,’ —Well, the service delivery should increase by that same amount,” he said. “It shouldn’t just be ‘here’s an additional cost, but your service level is now going to have to reduce because of it.’”
Under the existing police funding model, 291 municipalities do not currently pay for policing through municipal taxes, accounting for approximately one-fifth of Alberta’s population.
The proposed costing model would see those communities begin paying a yet-to-be-determined percentage of the frontline policing cost, valued at $232.5 million for last year.
The costing model proposed cost recovery options range between 15 and 70 per cent—cutting provincial funding for police services annually by $34.9 to $162.75 million.
Each municipality’s share of the downloaded cost would be calculated based on weighted values for population and equalized assessment.
“Depending on what the province decides to do in terms of how much of that ($232.5 million) they want to download onto the municipality, (Foothills County) could be looking at between $966,387 and $4.5 million annually,” said Payne.
To put the numbers into perspective, he said the $966,387 value “equates to about a two per cent tax increase” to cover the additional cost to the County in order to maintain services.
Payne highlighted the Alberta government’s Rural Crime Tour, which will conclude in Okotoks on Oct. 1, as an opportunity to bring council’s concerns directly to Doug Schweitzer, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, and Highwood MLA RJ Sigurdson.
Deputy Reeve Delilah Miller said it would be beneficial to bring the County’s concerns to the provincial government regarding the impact the model would have on residents.
"Our UCP party in power had indicated there would be no new tax, but basically all they’re doing is downloading the tax increase onto the municipalities to pass onto our residents,” she said. “I think that needs to be addressed.”
Acknowledging the provincial debt and the need for action, Coun. Suzanne Oel said the issue requires balance.
“We’re going to have to do something (about the provincial debt). The question is how do we—obviously we’re going to have to do our part, but what is that and how transparent is that being portrayed to everybody?” she said. “It will be interesting to hear and look at where that’s all going to happen.”
Municipalities have the opportunity to provide feedback on the proposed costing model until Oct. 15.