By Jeremy Appel
Alberta Newspaper Group
The president of the South East Alberta Rural Crime Watch Association says increased policing costs to affected municipalities will be worthwhile if it means more officers’ boots on the ground.
“Combined with the rural crime watch associations that are keeping eyes and ears open, more police officers on the ground should help in the reduction of rural crime,” says Shane Hok, who’s also a Cypress County councillor for Redcliff and Highway 529 N.
Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer announced Wednesday morning that the province is adding an additional 500 RCMP positions – composed of 300 officers and 200 civilian support staff – to the tune of $286 million, but the costs will be increasingly absorbed by rural municipalities themselves.
He called this new funding model “the single largest overall investment in rural policing since the march west,” which will “lay the foundation for sustainable policing for rural communities going forward.”
Affected municipalities will pay 10 per cent of costs in the coming year, 15 per cent in 2021, 20 per cent in 2022 and 30 per cent by 2023.
Some subsidies will be available based on crime severity and size of the population living outside the municipal detachment.
The government is also establishing an Alberta Police Advisory Board, where municipal leaders will have input on their law enforcement needs.
“The bottom line is, no matter what, the taxpayers are going to end up paying for it, whether it’s through the municipalities or provincial,” said Hok. “If it helps with (reducing) rural crime, I think the ratepayers will be happy with it.”
He concedes the funding model could complicate the county’s finances.
“We have to sit down as a council and figure how that’s all going to affect us and how we’re going to do it,” Hok said. “Any added expenses will put a strain on (our budget).”
Municipalities with more than 5,000 residents already pay their own policing costs, so a town like Redcliff isn’t directly affected by the announcement.
Mayor Dwight Kilpatrick says he agrees all municipalities should pay for their policing costs, but is skeptical of this particular approach.
The Town of Redcliff contracts out its policing to the RCMP at a cost of $1.5 million, although it receives provincial assistance – through grants and revenue sharing – to the tune of $250,000.
“We were hoping that everybody would start to contribute a fair share and that if we spread it like peanut butter, maybe that would start to bring down costs,” Kilpatrick said, adding that this idea was floated at the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association.
“Here in Redcliff, when we’re already paying for our own policing, we’re also paying for Cypress County and every other county and small town.”
AUMA president and Brooks Mayor Barry Morishita was part of Schweitzer’s announcement.
“Our name is ‘Alberta Urban’, but we certainly represent communities that are very rural in nature. They rely on the rural economy and what happens in rural areas,” Morishita said at the press conference.
“We think there’s no better model than what’s been presented, in terms of having equity in the funding. We think everybody who pays should have a say in what goes forward.”
But Kilpatrick says these funds won’t return to the urban municipalities who have shouldered a disproportionate amount of policing costs.
“If all that they’re going to do is start taking money from small communities and absorb it in their own great big budgets, that’s not going to help us a bit,” Kilpatrick said. “If they’re going to take some of that money and help us pay down some of ours, then it will help. But I’m not going to hold my breath.”
In a statement, NDP justice critic Kathleen Ganley called the announcement an “historic tax grab being downloaded onto the people of Alberta,” disguised as a funding increase.
She later took to Twitter to lambaste the announcement.
“The UCP is not contributing one new dollar. Rural residents will pay an additional $200 million in taxes,” she wrote. “This ‘provincial investment’ is historic only because no one has ever had the audacity to call a contribution of $0 an investment before.”