Smithers wants Ottawa to foot more of the bill for RCMP

The Town of Smithers has joined a long list of B.C. municipalities who are calling on Ottawa to pay a larger share of policing costs.

The Town of Smithers has joined a long list of B.C. municipalities who are calling on Ottawa to pay a larger share of policing costs.

B.C. towns that have between 5,000 and 15,000 people currently pay 70 per cent of the cost for RCMP services.

Smithers is the only municipality in the region that has to pay that 70 per cent share, said Smithers mayor Cress Farrow.

“If you live in the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako, you currently pay $65 a year for police services,” he said. “If you live in the Town of Smithers, you pay $365.”

Farrow said that gap grows even higher when it comes to business owners.

Businesses in the northwest can pay up to four times the tax rate that residents do, he said. Given that policing costs now make up such a major part of the Smithers budget, they can have a real impact on where business owners choose to set up shop.

Farrow is proposing that all residents in the Regional District pay the same tax rate to cover policing.

“It would be exactly the same as school taxes,” he said. “That’s a fair way to do it.”

Other mayors are threatening to abandon the RCMP altogether if Ottawa won’t bend in the cost-sharing negotiations.

Langley Mayor Peter Fassbender said that remains a real possibility after Alberta and Saskatchewan “broke ranks” and signed a new 20-year RCMP contract that delivers none of the cost-control measures B.C. municipalities have been demanding.

“We – and the other provinces and territories – are not afraid to look at the alternative, which would be forming our own provincial forces,” he said in a Black Press interview last week. A dozen B.C. cities have their own police forces, while 60 municipalities contract the RCMP.

Fassbender is the Union of B.C. Municipalities’ observer in the talks.

So far, Fassbender said, Ottawa has suggested it could increase its subsidy from 10 to 30 per cent for officers who serve on integrated regional policing teams, but not for the bulk of detachments where the 90-10 split would still apply in larger cities.

Nor, he said, is there any sign of progress on other major cost drivers of the RCMP, including the medical plan and pension benefits that are “one of the richest in the public sector.”

B.C. cities, some of which spend a quarter of their budgets on policing, complain  climbing pay, benefits and equipment costs are making the Mounties unaffordable.

Fassbender noted Saskatchewan and Alberta both got a me-too clause that guarantees they get the benefit of any improved deal the federal government might sign with B.C.

The current RMCP contract between Ottawa and the provinces expires in March, but it can be extended if a new agreement isn’t reached in time.

With files from Jeff Nagel.