Okotoks backs push to change police funding model

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Foothills: Proposal would see rural municipalities pay for policing

The Town of Okotoks is adding its voice to a call for the provincial governments to change funding models for policing in Alberta to put rural municipalities on the same footing as towns and cities.

The MD of Foothills’ reeve, on the other hand, believes its residents pay their fair share through their taxes.

Town council voted last month to support an AUMA motion calling for equitable funding for policing in Alberta.

Under the Police Act, the Province pays for police services to municipalities with a population less than 5,000, as well as to municipal districts and counties (regardless of their population) at no cost to them. However, towns and cities with more than 5,000 people have to pay for a portion of policing costs.

Okotoks Mayor Bill Robertson says this is unfair to towns and cities that shoulder significant policing costs.

“The big bone of contention with urban municipalities is that the rurals don’t have to pay anything for policing and that’s the inequity,” he said.

The AUMA is lobbying for a funding model based on population and property assessment.

He said rural counties and MDs near Alberta’s major centres are increasingly urbanizing with industrial bases, yet municipalities with populations in the tens of thousands don’t have to pay for policing, while towns or cities of a similar size do.

“If a rural jurisdiction was to become more urban, then they need to step up to the plate and pay for policing,” he said.

How much a town or city pays for policing depends on its population.

Municipalities with populations over 5,000 people can establish their own police force, or a regional force with other municipalities, or through contract policing provided by the RCMP.

In the latter case, the cost of police is shared between municipalities and the federal government.

For towns with a population between 5,000 and 15,000, the federal government pays 30 per cent and the municipality covers the remaining 70 per cent.

Municipalities with a population more than 15,000, such as Okotoks, pay 90 per cent of policing costs and the federal government paying the remaining 10 per cent.

The Province provides funding to municipalities to help with the cost of policing services through the Municipal Police Assistance Grant, which varies according to population.

According to a Town report, the cost for a single, regular RCMP member is $166,000, of which the Town pays 90 per cent, or $149,400.

With a complement of 25.5 regular members, the price tag for policing in Okotoks is approximately $4.23 million. Ten per cent is covered by the federal government and the Town receives $404,000 from the MPAG program and an additional $100,000 from the Province.

MD of Foothills Reeve Larry Spilak said MD residents already pay their fair share through their provincial tax dollars, which then go towards providing policing in the MD.

“All the AUMA is asking to take off the shoulders of the urbans and put more on the rurals,” he said. “We have limited policing in our rural jurisdiction and that happens to be coming out of the Okotoks detachment, the High River detachment and the Turner Valley detachment. That is paid for by the Province… I think we pay our fair way now through taxation.”

If the MD did have to pay for policing costs under a different funding model, he said it would want to have a say on priorities for officers responsible for the MD.

“Wherever we commit dollars and cents to, we want to be able to have some sort of a voice as to how those dollars are spent,” he said.

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