A controversial new 20-year RCMP contract continues to concern local mayors as they learn about additional costs that could have a significant impact on municipal budgets next year.
Larger-than-expected wage increases and paying for Green Timbers, the new $1.2-million RCMP E Division headquarters in Surrey, continue to be outstanding issues.
“The frustrating part for the mayors is we get handed the budget and we’re told it’s going to cost this much money,” said Pitt Meadows Mayor Deb Walters.
According to preliminary estimates, a RCMP officer is going to cost $1,200 more next year, while integrated team officers –responsible for a variety of services, including murder investigations and police dog teams – will be an additional $20,000.
Walters said municipalities are in negotiations with the federal government and province to find out whether they’ll pay for a portion of costs related to Green Timbers.
“It’s a wonderful facility, don’t get me wrong,” Walters said of the new headquarters.
“But at a time, when we have petitions asking for a zero per cent tax increase, this is not sustainable to us. We just can’t keep raising the cost of these things. We need some sort of assistance. You can’t rob Peter to pay Paul.”
B.C. has the single-largest contingent of RCMP officers of any province. Only 11 municipalities have their own police forces, with the rest relying on the RCMP.
Under the contract, communities with populations below 15,000 share the cost of policing with the federal government, with the municipality paying 70 per cent, while larger cities pay 90 per cent.
The contract, which will be reviewed every five years, includes a number of changes to give municipalities more control over how the force operates its detachments.
Local politicians also have more input into spending and the hiring of senior officers. Municipalities that want to opt out of the contract can leave with two years’ notice.
In 2013, policing accounted for $4 million of Pitt Meadows’ $12 million budget.
RCMP costs Maple Ridge around $18 million, and the director of finance Paul Gill says the budget to increase by $1 million in 2014.
Gill says the cost increases are not a surprise, but in line with projections the district has been receiving from RCMP.
“I’m surprised that the mayors are surprised,” said Gill. “The increase for Maple Ridge isn’t going to be significant because we’ve built this into our budget years ago. Our policing costs aren’t out of line. You can compare us to city police forces and find it’s very reasonable. That doesn’t mean we welcome these sorts of large increase. They are hard to handle make no mistake about it.”