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Squamish population growth largest in B.C. by percentage

Policing costs set to leap in 2012



In a nation of 33.5 million people and a province of 4.4 million with a national population growth average of 5.9 per cent, Squamish is turning heads.

The community's population grew by 14.6 per cent between 2006 and 2011, making it the town in B.C. with the largest growth percentage between census periods.

The 2006 census determined that the population of Squamish was just under 15,000 and this time around the number shot up to just over 17,000.

The most significant impact of this growth relates to policing costs. When a community in Canada served by the RCMP reaches a population size of 15,000 it is supposed to start covering almost all of the policing costs for the community.

The District of Squamish (DOS) successfully argued after the release of the 2006 census figures that the community shouldn't pay for more policing costs of a town with a population of more than 15,000 when the province demanded the community cover additional policing costs. The provincial government has been covering the difference, but there won't be any argument over the extra amount now that Squamish has eclipsed the 17,000-population marker.

Squamish Mayor Rob Kirkham said the biggest direct change resulting from the census release is the cost the community will have to pay for policing.

"I can't tell you exactly how much that is but it is going to be a significant number as far as a hit to our budget," said Kirkham. When pressed to offer a ballpark figure of how much of an increase Squamish is expecting to pay for the RCMP Kirkham said he believes the increase will be "in the neighbourhood of three-quarters of a million dollars."

Meeting notes from a Committee of the Whole gathering on Jan. 17 show that Linda Glenday, the DOS general manager of protective and supportive services, suggested to members of Squamish Council that the policing costs might increase by as much as $900,000 a year.

"We're just going into our budget process now so that will dictate how we look at how that fits into our budget," Kirkham said on Friday after MP John Weston announced Squamish was getting $4 million for landfill upgrades. "It is not necessarily going to end up being that much of a hit directly to the taxpayer depending on how we're able to fit it into our budget program."

The size of the local full-time firefighting force may become a topic of discussion in the next set of budget discussions.

In 2008, the Fire Underwriters Survey did an audit of Squamish Fire Rescue and reportedly concluded the staff size should be increased to avoid a change in the community's insurance gradings.

There are currently four career firefighters in Squamish along with a temporary full-time firefighter, a deputy chief and a fire chief. Last year, the force increased its numbers by recruiting 18 new volunteers. Three different people have held the title of chief since 2008 and the deputy chief role has also changed three times since then.