Extra money is needed to cover a new collective bargaining agreement drawn up with RCMP staff
Alberta municipalities say Ottawa has pummeled them to cover $60 million in back payments from RCMP, expenses that will put some of them in fiscal lockdown.
And the head of Alberta’s municipalities said it’s ammunition the provincial government can use in any push to replace the mounted police with a provincial police force.
Towns and cities that rely on the mounted police say the federal budget unveiled this week makes it clear they will be left with unaccounted for and unbudgeted expenses after a new collective agreement was worked out with RCMP staff.
Many will be forced to cut back in other areas to cover the added costs and had no say in the matter, said Taneen Rudyk, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM).
“The federal government’s refusal to absorb these costs, which were essentially negotiated with municipal money but not with municipal contributions, is not acceptable,” Rudyk said in a statement.
“City councils will be forced to make incredibly difficult decisions, such as cutting essential services or passing the bill to residents, at a time when Canadians’ concerns about local safety and cost of living are already are increasing”.
He also noted that municipalities cannot, by law, run deficits and have limited options to increase revenue.
Paying that bill will cost Alberta municipalities $60 million and the province another $80 million to cover the costs of smaller cities, said Cathy Heron, mayor of St. Albert and president of Alberta municipalities.
“We knew it was coming for a long time, but we just didn’t know that, in the end, (municipalities) were underestimating the cost, it’s a huge success,” Heron said.
“We weren’t at the table, but they were haggling with our wallets.”
It will cost St. Albert an additional $3 million, and while the city in northwest Edmonton had budgeted for it, “I’d rather keep that money and spend it on something else,” he said.
Under the new collective agreement, those costs will be retroactive to 2017, and some Alberta municipalities that have contracts with the RCMP will be severely affected if their population exceeds 5,000, said Paul McLauchlin, president of Alberta Rural Municipalities.
“It’s a pretty big bill for municipalities of more than 5,000 people, I’ve seen some bills of more than $1 million,” he said, adding that the FCM had been in regular contact with the federal government on the issue and I expected better.
“It really was a disappointment. It’s really short-sighted on the part of the federal government and it comes at the worst time for municipalities.”
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Its members were already seeing other police costs offloaded to them, McLauchlin said.
Heron said some municipalities are covering the extra cost with one-time levies and even reducing RCMP staff, “making communities less safe.”
The FCM said the city of Hinton, with a population of about 10,000, will have to contribute an additional $750,000.
Airdrie, just north of Calgary, will pay $2.4 million, Mayor Peter Brown said.
“We anticipated this bill coming, but the process was flawed from the start,” said Brown, who governs a city of nearly 80,000.
“A lot of the details of all of this were never worked out, so obviously we were never part of the process and that’s the biggest frustration.”
He said Airdrie budgeted about $1.6 million for the additional police costs “and that an additional $600,000 may not sound like a lot, but with the cost of living increasing, we need every penny we can get to support our growth.”
Brown said he doesn’t envy that RCMP officers are paid better, adding that they have lagged behind their municipal cousins in Alberta in terms of salary.
The last collective bargaining agreement for RCMP members expired in 2016. Under the new agreement, commissioned officers will receive a 1.75 percent pay increase for each year between 2017 and 2023.
Offloading that spending doesn’t make the prospect of a provincial Alberta police force, a concept that has been pushed by the UCP government, any more attractive, Brown said.
“We really don’t know the impact of having a provincial police force and we are very happy with the service provided by the RCMP,” Brown said.
“Maybe as we grow (as a city) that could be an option.”
St. Albert’s Heron said it doesn’t change his town’s commitment to the RCMP, but it does give the province an argument in its efforts, paused for now, to bring in a provincial police force.
“That’s why we have communities like Grande Prairie that have decided to take over their policing,” Heron said, referring to a decision earlier this month by the northwestern Alberta city to create its own police service.
The UCP government has cited uncertainty with RCMP contracts and rising costs among its reasons for opting for a provincial police force.
Replacing the Mounties with a provincial alternative remains unpopular with most Albertans, according to opinion polls.
Officials at the federal Ministry of Public Security, which oversees the RCMP, did not respond to a request for comment.
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