The renewal of the controversial contract for RCMP services in B.C. will boost policing costs by less than one per cent in the first year of the deal, according to Langley Mayor Peter Fassbender.
The contract for the 2012 fiscal year will hold the line on salaries and pensions. But inflation will account for a slight increase in the budget, Mr. Fassbender, an observer at the contract talks on behalf of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, said Monday.
The costs for future years are expected to be announced once the contract is ratified.
One per cent does not sound like much of an increase. But in Chilliwack, an increase of one per cent will likely mean one less police officer next year on the streets of the city, said Chuck Stam, a member of the Chilliwack city council.
Chilliwack council decided a few weeks ago to hire an additional police officer at a cost of around $144,000. That represented slightly less than one per cent of its $16-million budget.
"Considering that 30 per cent of municipal costs are policing [in Chilliwack] a one-per-cent hit is a significant amount," Mr. Stam said. "It may mean foregoing that additional officer in order to pay for [the contract renewal]"
The B.C. government is expected to ratify the 20-year contract for RCMP services next week with the federal government. The RCMP serves as the municipal police force in several urban centres as well as in remote areas of the province. Although the province negotiates the contract, municipalities pay 90 per cent of the costs and Ottawa picks up the remaining 10 per cent.
The Mounties' mishandling of several cases in recent years cast a shadow over the contract negotiations, sparking widespread demands for more accountability and transparency from the force. Municipalities sought a mechanism to control policing costs, especially since they have to pick up most of the bill. The B.C. government threatened to replace the RCMP with a new provincial policing force last fall when negotiations stalled.
Ottawa and the provincial government signed an agreement in principle in November but have not released copies of the document or said anything about the costs involved in the contract. Mr. Fassbender said negotiations on the wording of the agreement has continued since last fall.
Although the provincial government has not yet shown the contract to municipalities, municipal leaders have been told about provisions in the agreement in technical briefings held in January.
The most significant change will be the creation of a nine-member local government committee that will provide an avenue for municipalities to raise B.C. concerns about costs, planning and management, Mr. Fassbender said. Currently, everything was handled out of Ottawa without an opportunity for municipalities to raise any issues, he said.
The new committee reflects "a new partnership between Ottawa, the province and local governments," he said.
Mr. Fassbender said the province has advised that local government officials will receive a copy of the final draft by Friday. However, the province will ratify the contract before municipalities have an opportunity to fully review the implications of the deal.
The agreement with Ottawa includes a provision to opt out if the province is not satisfied with the deal. "This is the best deal we were going to get," he said.
NDP critic Kathy Corrigan said she expects to be briefed later this week on the contract.
She questioned whether the contract includes provisions to hold the RCMP accountable to municipalities for what they spend. Increasing the portion of the bill paid by the federal government would help, she said.
Justice Minister Shirley Bond did not respond Monday to a request for an interview.