BARRHEAD - The County of Barrhead will continue to rely on Lac Ste. Anne County for its bylaw enforcement and peace officer service.
At least for the time being.
On May 3, County of Barrhead councillors unanimously approved a recommendation to sign an agreement with Lac Ste. Anne County for bylaw enforcement services. On April 19, finance director Tamara Molzahn pegged the contract at about $85,000. Either party can terminate the agreement with two months' notice.
Since 2016, Lac Ste. Anne County has provided the County of Barrhead with 80 hours per month of bylaw enforcement services.
County manager Debbie Oyarzun said the contract includes the enforcement of applicable provincial legislation and county bylaws.
"That's all in, and it has proven to be very cost-effective," she said, noting in 2021, the cost of providing the service worked out to roughly $60 an hour.
In late September, Lac Ste. Anne County informed Barrhead it would be increasing the cost of providing the service by close to 50 per cent to the previously mentioned $85,000, up from $57,000. The hourly cost works out to $88.50.
"With the potential of it going up again in 2023 to $105 an hour, plus or minus," Oyarzun said, adding they've tentatively added the proposed increase into the 2023 operating budget.
However, during council's 2022 budget deliberations, she said councillors instructed administration to investigate the costs of providing the service in-house.
"Because we are only getting 80 hours or half a position, so what would it cost to have a full (community peace officer or CPO) position? That is what we want to know," Oyarzun said. "You've given us direction to pursue this ahead of the end of this year's fourth quarter or early 2023."
In preparation for this eventuality, during their April 19 meeting, councillors approved the creation of a new bylaw equipment reserve to help them set up a new bylaw enforcement department, as well as to provide funding for the scheduled replacement of bylaw equipment such as vehicles and wheel weighers or other equipment needed in performing duties of the bylaw department.
The initial $85,000 for the reserve comes from a re-allocation of funds from the General Tax Stabilization Reserve. In subsequent years, contributions will be from property taxes.
Oyarzun said if council does decide to create a new bylaw enforcement department, it will not happen immediately.
"There are a lot of steps to go through," she said. "We would need to get permission from the province to be an employer of peace officers ... and as part of that process we would need to develop standard operating procedures, create policies, formalize a (memorandum of understanding) with the local RCMP, and develop a traffic safety plan."
Reeve Doug Drozd asked if the county had ever gone over its 80-hour monthly limit due to officers having to testify in court.
Oyarzun said it has happened, noting they set aside about $1,500 for such a possibility. If it is not used, it is put back into the accumulated surplus fund.
"I think we've extended those hours once, in 2018, due to extra court time," she said. "We actually had to call a peace officer back that was no longer working for Lac Ste. Anne County to testify."
Coun. Bill Lane asked how much fine revenue the county received.
Oyarzun did not know the answer, saying it was not a straightforward procedure.
"There can be a considerable delay from when tickets are issued, especially for traffic offences, to when the county receives any monies," she said, adding there often can be a year or more difference between the two.
"Then the court can sometimes reduce the amount of the ticket," she said.
"It is not a user-pay program," Drozd added.