Bracing for Police Costs

The way local governments tax for services is a flawed model, in my opinion, it puts local governments in a position that makes it hard for us to be a winner. One of the largest misconceptions is that the tax you pay goes entirely into our municipal budget. 

In 2020, of the taxes we collected, only 51% went to Fernie’s municipal services. The other tax authorities were; the RDEK (11%), the Elk Valley Regional Hospital 
(2%), School District No. 5 (29%), BC Assessment Authority and Municipal Finance Authority (1%) and RCMP (6%). 

Our budgets just like your own personal budgets are also facing cost drivers; insurance costs, fuel costs, wages and benefits, insurance and the increasing costs associated with the challenges of the new reality of supply chains. 

Everything is simply taking longer, and harder to get. Energy costs are escalating. 

One of the most uncertain impacts to our budget that we have been bracing for is the RCMP unionization costs. RCMP salaries have been frozen since December 31, 2016 when the most recent pay package expired.

At UBCM, the executive which I am a part of, we are absolutely advocating for affordability and sustainability of policing for our communities, and that the federal government engage directly with local governments. This did not happen, in fact, there was a glaring absence of consultation with local governments, and we were put in a very uncomfortable position heading into this budget not knowing the true costs of the compensation package. 

In August of 2022, RCMP Members ratified a six- year collective agreement. Including retroactive pay and new base compensations, this means that the compound total increase in RCMP salaries is 23.8% and will have a significant impact on our municipal budgets. 

In some communities based on their population, policing costs can take up to almost 30% of their municipal budget, which is going to put pressure on property tax. Fernie pays 70% of RCMP costs because we are a community over 5,000. 

Our federal lobby group, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has put a call to action to the federal government to cover all retroactive costs associated with the labour agreement it has negotiated with the RCMP for local contract policing. 

UBCM joined that call and issued a letter to the federal Minister of Public Safety supporting the request for the federal government to absorb all retroactive costs and noted the lack of adequate communication and consultation with local government throughout the entire process. 

Currently, eight Vancouver Island south local governments are calling for immediate action as they were inexplicably faced with a direct download of E-Comm 9-1-1 services for the first time. The
costs were previously covered by senior governments, 30% from Ottawa and 70% from BC. 

By forcing these local government to absorb 100% of the E-Comm 9-1-1 service, North Cowichan reported that through the three-year phase of this service, that download would translate into approximately a 2% tax increase for their municipal taxpayers. 

These eight local governments are facing the exact same challenges Fernie is - an aging inventory of facilities, cost escalators, managing their asset management program and trying to meet the increasing needs of their community. In some of those communities, they are also strained with the opioid and mental health crisis we face today. 

It is time to start talking about the true cost of protective services and how much more local governments can bare, as it will impact our ability to provide the services our community wants, and our ability to keep taxes down. 

I want to conclude by saying we are very thankful to the Elk Valley RCMP and their commitment to our health and safety. They are valuable contract partners, but the truth is simply that the federal government needs to absorb more of the police cost.