New funding proposal for policing angers rural municipalities

Some rural Alberta municipalities say they are concerned the province’s proposed changes to police funding will download costs onto their small communities.

Rural leaders say they weren't properly consulted

Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer says no policing costs will be downloaded onto municipalities through proposed changes to the funding model. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Some rural Alberta municipalities are concerned proposed changes to the way the province funds policing will download costs onto their small communities.

The province currently covers all policing costs for towns, counties, improvement districts and municipal districts with fewer than 5,000 people. 

In the wake of a webinar the provincial government hosted about the proposed changes to the funding model, some municipalities went public with their concerns — not only about the draft plan, but also about what they claim has been a dearth of consultation.

"How come we don't have that strong rural voice that we thought we were going to have at the end of the day?" Lac Ste. Anne County Reeve Joe Blakeman said in an interview Wednesday.

He said his county northwest of Edmonton could be covering up to an extra $1.4 million in the worst case scenario. 

"It's not going to break us, but it's definitely going to either increase taxes to increase revenue, or we cut services," Blakeman said.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley has said Premier Jason Kenney and his UCP government are considering a plan to recover anywhere from 15 to 70 per cent of the costs to police 291 municipalities.

But in an emailed statement Wednesday, Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer was adamant that no costs will be downloaded to municipalities. He said that assertion is false and that the income the province gets will be used to fund more "boots on the ground" in rural Alberta.

"Let me be perfectly clear: Any new funds that may be collected under a new model would be reinvested directly in additional frontline policing, leading to an overall increase in funding for police services in Alberta," the statement said.

"These consultations are ongoing. Using dollar figures based on an ongoing consultation that has not resulted in any final decisions would be presumptuous."

Blakeman said it seems like the province is rushing through a consultation period that is set to end on Oct. 15. He worries that means the changes will be included in the Oct. 24 budget.

The reeve of the County of Wetaskiwin also posted an open letter to Kenney, outlining similar concerns. Reeve Terry Van de Kraats wrote that under the proposed model, the county will face extra costs of anywhere from $390,000 to $1.8 million.

The reeve wrote that if the proposed funding model is approved, it's a significant possibility that policing service levels will significantly decrease, while the costs the county incurs will sharply increase.

"To be blunt, the level of consultation thus far on this highly important issue from rural municipalities has been completely unacceptable," Van de Kraats wrote. 

Both counties criticized the province for communicating the plan through a webinar, and for the limited way the government has consulted with rural communities on the issue.

Schweitzer said he has directed his department to correct any miscommunication on the issue. 

The minister embarked on a tour of rural communities last month to talk about crime. In the last fiscal year, Alberta paid $232.5 million to police small communities, which are home to about 20 per cent of the province's residents. 

with files from Michelle Bellefontaine