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Mounting RCMP costs concern municipality

Whistler’s policing costs have grown 52 per cent in the past five years

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The RCMP will likely keep carving out a big piece of the municipality's budget, Mayor Ken Melamed cautioned this week.

After meeting with other B.C. mayors earlier this month Whistler's top official said he doesn't believe the latest negotiations between the provincial and federal government will stop RCMP costs from being downloaded onto the shoulders of municipal governments.

"The trend is concerning," Melamed said Monday. "Without exception, the policing budget is the largest budget item for every local government. There is a lot of concern about those costs and the continued expansion of those costs."

When the mayor first entered office in 2005, Whistler's contributions to the local police force was $1.7 million. Today, those expenditures have risen 52 per cent, to $2.7 million.

Such mounting figures add significant strain to the Resort Municipality of Whistler's tight budget. Over the past three years, Whistler has upped property taxes over 20 per cent to as the municipality wrestles with a multi-million dollar shortfall.

The single biggest reason policing costs have gone up is the RCMP's new integrated teams, such as the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, said Lisa Landry, general manager of economic viability for the municipality.

The specialized units were introduced in 2007 to tackle crimes in the Lower Mainland. And, since Whistler is considered part of the Lower Mainland, it is on the hook to help pay for those teams even though the bulk of their work occurs around the Vancouver area.

Whistler's 2010 invoice for those teams totaled $288,000, said Landry.

"We have only had one murder in 30 years, but we are going to contribute to funding that team," the mayor said.

Growing RCMP pensions and salaries along with upgrades to computer systems and other equipment are also driving costs upwards.

Melamed is not alone in his concerns about ballooning RCMP costs. Over the past month, mayors across the province have been meeting to discuss the issue. Another discussion is slated for the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) convention in Whistler next month.

Under the current RCMP contract, which expires in 2012, municipalities the size of Whistler are responsible for 70 per cent of their policing costs, with the federal government covering the rest of the bill.

Larger municipalities that use the RCMP pay 90 per cent of the tab.

The federal government has been clear those ratios won't change, but B.C. municipalities are hoping some of the extra costs - like wages and equipment - will be mitigated, said Melamed.

Meanwhile the mayor added the provincial government is currently negotiating a new RCMP contract with the federal government and the only municipal representative at the table is not allowed to speak or vote.

"That is one of the issues: taxation without representation from local government," explained Melamed.

"We don't have a democratic say and yet municipal governments are looking for predictable budget information. We would like to know we can do our five year financial plan and know what the costs are going to be without having these surprises we have to react to, which often result in tax increases."

In response to municipal concerns, Christine Haltner from the province's Policing and Community Safety Branch pointed out that B.C. is the lead province in ongoing RCMP contract negotiations with the federal government.

"In that role, we are committed to representing the interests of local government," she said.

"A key topic at the table is cost containment and affordability. We are consulting with municipalities at every stage of the contract renewal process to ensure we develop agreements that satisfy all parties."

Haltner also pointed out that the provincial government has made an "unprecedented" commitment to support policing costs.

Since 2001, it has nearly doubled the annual policing cost budget, resulting in more than 1,100 more police officers across the province, she said.

 

 

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