by Colin Smith
At a time of heightened concern about crime the Provincial Government’s recent move to put more 300 more police officers into rural Alberta has been welcomed.
However, there are mixed feelings about the fact that rural municipalities and small communities will now be contributing to policing costs.
On Wednesday Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Doug Schweitzer announced that over the next five years an additional $286,605,021 will be spent on rural policing, which will pay for 300 RCMP patrol officers and 200 civilian employees.
Under the terms of an agreement Alberta pays 70 per cent of rural policing costs and 30 per cent is paid by the Federal Government.
In April 2020 rural municipalities and communities with a population of less than 5,000 will now begin paying a portion of their frontline policing costs. They will contribute 10 per cent of policing costs in the first year, followed by 15 per cent in 2021, 20 per cent in 2022 and 30 per cent in 2023.
As a larger community that contracts with the RCMP for policing services, Morinville is not directly affected by the change.
The Town has planned and budgeted for other increased policing costs based on previous information. The 2020 budget contains $1,435,792.00 for policing, up by $109,715 from 2019.
Mayor Barry Turner noted that increased rural criminal activity is a concern for everyone and the addition of more rural RCMP officers will definitely benefit the Town of Morinville.
“The larger resource pool of officers to serve the entire region will result in overall improved coverage for everyone,” he said.
Turner said Morinville funds ten RCMP members who also support the entire region to help ensure 24-hour-a-day, seven days a week coverage for all, as well as providing additional RCMP clerk support for the County of Sturgeon.
Sturgeon County Mayor Alanna Hnatiw said she is pleased to see policing enhanced and prioritized by the provincial government, as an essential service keeping municipalities and communities safe.
“Rural crime has been an ongoing issue and it is on the rise,” she said. “This is a step in the right direction. This is very important to us – the safety of our community is a top priority.”
However, Hnatiw expressed concern about the additional costs, which she feels will pose a considerable challenge for the Sturgeon County and other rural municipalities given the current economic environment.
She pointed out that contributions begin in April 2020, and most municipalities have budgets in place for next year and beyond.
“We are likely approving ours next Tuesday,” Hnatiw said. “We may have to consider a tax increase to respond quickly to what has been a decision by the province without much lead-time for those municipalities affected.
“A great deal of work went into bringing forward a budget with increased service levels and a zero tax increase. We work with three- and five-year budgets, and this is a large expense that has given us less than five months to prepare for. It affects this year and will have effects going forward.”
Hnatiw added, “I believe residents are grateful for the promise of increased RCMP members, but I am looking forward to hearing more details about where and when those boots will hit the ground.”
Town of Lamont Mayor Bill Skinner noted that now having to pay for policing is not the only financial challenge the community is facing.
“During these times of decreasing revenues due to reductions in MSI grant funds combined with increasing costs for utilities, housing, landfill, and water requisitions, this added cost has created greater stress during our budgeting process,” Skinner said.
“We do hope that the increase in officers will help to protect our community and that with more boots on the ground our communities will be safer.”