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Rural municipalities sound alarm over Alberta’s review of police funding

Sept. 8: Alberta’s Minister of Justice joins Global News Calgary to talk about rural crime rates, and what is being done to address it.

Several municipalities are voicing concerns with the Alberta government’s review of policing costs, saying they fear taxpayers could end up shouldering more costs or receiving less service.

“Under the proposed model, costs of anywhere from $390,000 to $1.8 million will be effectively downloaded onto the County of Wetaskiwin to pay for a current level of service from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,” Reeve Terry Van de Kraats wrote in an Oct. 8 letter to Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer.

“The government of Alberta contends that these proposed changes to police funding will actually increase the level of police service received by rural residents,” Van de Kraats wrote. “However, the fact that rural and smaller urban municipalities will now essentially be responsible for paying a portion of police costs currently shouldered by the provincial government, leads the county to seriously question this.”

READ MORE: Alberta government suggests small rural areas pay for policing: NDP

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The reeve also criticized the consultation process, calling it “extremely limited, with a very narrow time frame for feedback.”

“The only formal engagements between municipal and provincial officials on the subject have been a webinar hosted by the ministry of justice and ministry of municipal affairs,” Van de Kraats explained.

“To be blunt, the level of consultation thus far on this highly important issue for rural municipalities has been completely unacceptable.”

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The United Conservatives were asked about this issue during question period on Wednesday.

“We will be enhancing, not reducing, support for criminal justice in rural Alberta,” Premier Jason Kenney responded.

READ MORE: Alberta justice minister stops in Fort Macleod on province-wide tour discussing rural crime

NDP MLA Kathleen Ganley referenced Barrhead County, saying it anticipates the policing funding change would cost it nearly $800,000 annually.

“Why won’t you stand in this House and admit that you’re cutting policing funding from places like Barrhead County?” she asked Schweitzer.

“Because we’re not, it’s pretty simple,” Schweitzer replied. “We’re not cutting funding for rural policing.

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In a statement to Global News, Schweitzer reiterated: “Any new funds that may be collected under a new model would be reinvested directly in additional front-line policing, leading to an overall increase in funding for police services in Alberta. Any assertion to the contrary is absolutely, 100 per cent false. No costs would be ‘downloaded’; new funds would be used for boots on the ground in rural Alberta.

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“Our government committed to consulting with municipalities on how policing is funded in Alberta to ensure we have a law enforcement system that emphasizes front-line policing. These consultations are ongoing.

“Using dollar figures based on an ongoing consultation that has not resulted in any final decisions would be presumptuous,” the justice minister said.

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“I have also directed my department to correct any miscommunications on these matters.”

Foothills MP says rural crime is at crisis levels in Alberta
Foothills MP says rural crime is at crisis levels in Alberta

However, other rural municipalities are echoing Wetaskiwin’s concerns with the funding review.

Lac Ste. Anne County issued a joint news release on Wednesday, including the communities of Onoway, Alberta Beach, Summer Village of Silver Sands, Summer Village of Southview, Summer Village of Yellowstone, Summer Village of West Cove and Summer Village of Sunrise Beach.

“Presently, residents in rural municipalities — and urban municipalities (towns, villages and summer villages) with under 5,000 population, do not directly pay for policing through their municipal taxes,” the news release said. “Under the new model that the government of Alberta proposed to municipalities this fall, these communities would begin paying between 15 to 70 per cent of policing costs.

“At the top end of the model, this would represent a burden of up to $1.4 million for Lac Ste. Anne County, which equates to an increase of more than $400 per year to the average taxpayer.”

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Charts outlining the estimated impact on rural taxpayers by municipality were included in the joint news release.

Lac Ste. Anne County has concerns with policing costs in Alberta.
Lac Ste. Anne County has concerns with policing costs in Alberta. Courtesy: Lac Ste. Anne County
Lac Ste. Anne County has concerns with policing costs in Alberta.
Lac Ste. Anne County has concerns with policing costs in Alberta. Courtesy: Lac Ste. Anne County

The group of municipalities said the proposed cost structure “comes with no mention of a corresponding increase in police service.”

The reeve said that after several municipalities raised concerns and questioned the province about the plan, they were told by the UCP that “consultations are ongoing and no decisions have been made yet on a new police-costing model… and that further conversations would occur after Oct. 15 to determine how the model might look if it were to go ahead.”

Blakeman said the province also told municipalities they could provide feedback through an online survey before Oct. 15 or submit statements to the ministry. But Blakeman said the survey questions are “clearly skewed in favour of the justice [minister] and Solicitor General’s intended direction.”

The group of smaller municipalities is asking for more meaningful dialogue with the province.

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“By downloading these costs, they’re asking rural people to pay more or get less,” NDP MLA Joe Ceci said. “The premier broke his promise about no new taxes and he’s getting away with it by forcing counties and smaller municipalities to do it for him.”

READ MORE: Alberta announces $10M, 39 RCMP officer positions, to fight rural crime

The UCP stresses its goal is more police services.

“To ensure we have a law enforcement system that enhances public safety and emphasizes front-line policing, our government is fulfilling our campaign promise to review how police are funded in Alberta,” the justice minister explained in an op-ed. “The current model has resulted in a shortage of policing services. We’ve been listening to Albertans, municipalities and others and are asking for feedback on a number of models on how police should be funded.”

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READ MORE: Premier Kenney on budget cuts, user fees and being Albertan

In an interview on the Global News at Noon on Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney was asked about the budget, cuts and the potential impact of downloading costs onto municipalities.

“We’re facing a fiscal crisis,” Kenney said. “Our debt as a province has gone from $13 to $60 billion in the last four years… We need to get ahead of this.”

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He called the budget “prudent,” and indicated it would see “modest reductions in spending.”

“Everybody is going to have to pitch in here,” Kenney said. “We can’t stop the dive into a reckless debt without everybody participating.”

Is Alberta’s crime reduction strategy working in rural communities?
Is Alberta’s crime reduction strategy working in rural communities?