INNISFAIL – A recently completed collective bargaining agreement between the federal government and the National Police Federation on behalf of RCMP members could cost the Town of Innisfail $500,000 in retroactive policing costs, as well as an annual policing budget increase of $200,000.
Those massive unexpected costs could have an adverse impact on Innisfail’s soon-to-begin 2022 budget deliberations, especially if the town is served with an invoice from the federal government to pay the retroactive cost immediately and in full.
“Yes, there could potentially be an invoice for up to $500,000, and so the town would have to come up with that money. That depends on what they are asking for and when. Will they break it up over a period of time? I have no idea,” said Todd Becker, the town’s chief administrative officer. “There’s been no word or indication they will split up an invoice like that, so we will wait and see what happens.
“Potentially it will have an immediate impact on 2021, and of course ongoing in 2022 moving forward,” added Becker, noting the impact of an annual policing budget increase of $200,000.
As for how this problem will impact local taxpayers if Innisfail is forced to take the full projected hit, the town is already estimating they could be hammered with a tax increase of about three per cent.
But the town is fighting back, and they have the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) on their side.
Mayor Jim Romane, on behalf of council and the Town of Innisfail, has fired off a letter to Bill Blair, federal minister of public safety, that the town is not in the financial position to absorb any significant costs.
“If these costs are passed down to our municipality, the fiscal shock caused by this decision will further threaten the viability of our community, which is still struggling to recover from the impact of the pandemic,” said Romane in the letter, adding retroactive pay increases negotiated by the federal government that are believed to date back to Dec. 31, 2016 should be their responsibility.
“We believe that it would be unreasonable and unfair to download these costs onto municipalities,” he said. “Municipalities simply do not have the financial ability to absorb the cost of the RCMP retroactive pay amounts.”
Becker formally briefed town council on Aug. 9 about the potential massive retroactive bill and future annual policing cost increase. Council passed a motion to send Blair a letter outlining their concerns.
He noted in his report to council that an AUMA news release from July 29 addressed the concern of the lack of transparency and consultation with communities as the provincial government explored the idea of creating a provincial police service. Becker added in his report council has heard from dozens of Alberta municipalities advocating support to the government to maintain the RCMP as Alberta's primary police force.
The AUMA also said in a newsletter that municipalities were not at the table for the just-completed negotiations, and the federal government did not provide updates to relevant stakeholders, including municipalities, during the process.
“Because of the lack of communications from the federal government as the bargaining progressed, municipalities were not aware of any settlement details and thus were not able to properly prepare financially for these retroactive pay increases,” said the AUMA. “The fiscal shock caused by this decision may threaten the viability of some communities."
The AUMA estimated the total retroactive pay costs to 47 Alberta municipalities with Municipal Police Service Agreements could be as high as $60 million, which works out to about $50,000 per constable.
In an email letter to federal ministers on July 29, FCM president Joanne Vanderheyden said local governments continue to pay a “rapidly growing share” of policing costs, although they have no ability to run deficits, and have limited revenue generating tools at their disposal.
“As the new RCMP labour relations framework is implemented, the federal government should work with all orders of government to ensure the unique financial position of municipalities is taken into consideration,” said Vanderheyden. “Particularly concerning any new unbudgeted increases to the cost of policing that have been proposed without prior federal-municipal consultation.”
Becker told The Albertan on Sept. 1 he was unaware of any new development on the issue.