Lantzville councillors want to see changes to the way the provincial government requires municipalities to pay for policing costs.
During a meeting earlier this month, Lantzville council unanimously voted in favour of submitting a motion to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities that calls for an overhaul to the province’s existing funding model for police services for municipalities.
Under the province’s funding model for policing services, municipalities with populations of 5,000 or less – including Lantzville – pay 30 per cent for contracting policing services from the RCMP.
When a municipality’s population exceeds 5,000 people, it must provide its own law enforcement service by either creating its own police force or by contracting out services to an existing police force or the RCMP.
Municipalities that have a population between 5,000 and 14,999 and opt to contract out policing services to the RCMP are required to pay 70 per cent of the policing costs, which can mean a sudden increase. The federal government covers the remaining 30 per cent.
Lantzville’s proposed overhaul requests that the province review the current policing cost structure and introduce a five-year scaled cost system for municipalities whose populations jump above 5,000. Specifics around the changes weren’t discussed by councillors but the idea is that a scaled system would help municipalities deal with the rise in policing costs by gradually increasing the amount they would be required to pay over a five-year period, instead of being hit with the increase from 30 to 70 per cent all at once.
According to the Osoyoos Times, the Town of Osoyoos surpassed the 5,000 population threshold following the 2016 census, which resulted in their annual RCMP policing costs increasing from roughly $390,000 to just under $600,000 in 2017.
Although Lantzville’s population is listed as 3,605 according to the 2016 census, new homes are being built in the community with the Foothills development project well underway.
During last week’s meeting, Coun. Karen Proctor, who brought forward the motion, told councillors the province’s policing cost model isn’t fair. She said when Lantzville’s population exceeds 5,000, the municipality will pay significantly more for RCMP policing services but won’t see any additional benefits.
“We’re not going to get a police station. We are still going to use the Nanaimo station. We’re still going to get the same amount of RCMP attention as we get now,” she said.
Proctor said although she doesn’t believe Lantzville’s population will exceed 5,000 people any time in the near future, she believes the high cost associated with policing costs isn’t helpful for smaller communities such as Lantzville looking to move forward with development.
“We’ve sort of had it held over our heads in Lantzville that ‘oh my goodness, if we grow, the policing costs are going to grow so much that we can’t afford it,’” Proctor said. “That’s really a small picture of what to look at in terms of how to develop a community.”
A phased or gradual pricing increase would be a far better approach and would help smaller communities deal with the increase, said Proctor.
“If we just changed the structure so that it was phased in over five years, any well-managed municipality would be able to handle that increase,” she said.
Proctor’s motion is a “no brainer” to support, said Lantzville Mayor Mark Swain. He said the idea of phasing in the costs is a great idea, explaining that Lantzville pays significantly less for policing than Nanaimo.
“There is a huge difference in cost and we pretty much receive the same service in a lot of ways,” Swain said, adding that Lantzville benefits from being so close to Nanaimo.
Swain also said the increased policing cost will be significant once Lantzville does cross the population threshold but shouldn’t be a reason for hindering development.
“It is something that we have to look at and plan for and if part of that planning is knowing that over a five-year period, we have to put more money aside for policing increases, then so be it,” he said.
Coun. Will Geselbracht called Proctor’s motion a “great idea” that will likely receive support from smaller municipalities across the province. He said the district is on the verge of development and if Proctor’s motion is actually implemented by the province someday, it could benefit Lantzville.
“We may reach 5,000 and if this [initiative] can be in place, that will help,” he said. “But it is a very logical motion and I support it.”
Meanwhile, Coun. Ian Savage called it a “great idea” to solve the problem of policing cost increases, adding that the issue has concerned him since the 1990s.
Lantzville’s proposed change will now be referred and voted on during the AVICC’s annual meeting next year.
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