By Jessica Jones
For the Independent
The County of Stettler was dealt another blow to its bottom line amidst day three of council’s budget workshop on Dec. 4th, following an announcement that the Provincial Government will be quadrupling the municipality’s responsibility to fund policing in the coming years.
Starting as of April 2020, small and rural municipalities across Alberta will now be responsible for covering extra policing costs of over $200 million over the next five years under a modified provincial policing model, the UPC government announced on Dec. 4th.
The County of Stettler was told that roughly 300 uniformed officers will join detachments and specialized RCMP units across the province in the attempt to combat rural crime.
However, it means “another hit” to the County of Stettler’s already strapped bottom line, explained County of Settler Director of Communications Niki Thorsteinsson.
“Our council is going to have to be very strategic and also make some tough decisions,” she said.
“Our revenue has decreased substantially over the past few years with losses in oil and gas, linear taxation and now we’re seeing a loss in Provincial funding. And today we are told we have to add an entirely new budget line,” she said Dec. 4th.
“Our job right now as a council is to prepare for this new initiative handed down by the Province and decide how we will fit this new budget line into an already very tight budget,” echoed County of Stettler Reeve Larry Clarke.
He adds that the policing model may help with rural crime if the RCMP is available to fill the positions but also noted that the County of Stettler has already seen a drop in crime with its three CPO officers.
In a letter, sent from the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA), an independent advocacy association comprising of Alberta’s 69 counties and municipal districts, President Al Kemmere detailed having, “Serious concerns with the model, as well as some unanswered questions.
“Overall, this has been a challenge and we understand and have made the government aware that this decision will have big fiscal impacts for RMA members,” Kemmere noted.
“Our hope is that this will be counter-acted by improved policing and a reduction in rural crime, but time will tell how effective it is.”
In addition to the costs of the new policing model, Thorsteinsson added that the County is dealing with a loss in revenue from unpaid linear taxes, as well as a $200,000 Municipal Sustainable Initiative Funding cut handed down from the UPC.
Council is further considering how to deal with another $200,000 MSI reduction in 2021, along with the future knowledge that the MSI funding model will be completely eliminated in 2022.
“The Province also gave shallow gas well companies a 35 per cent reduction in taxes in 2019, and it is covering that 35 per cent shortfall with us in 2019.
“But in 2020 we again feel municipalities may get hit with that 35 per cent reduction or loss in revenue permanently,” Thorsteinsson said.
The County of Stettler encourages its residents to attend council’s Public Budget Presentation on Dec. 17th at 1:30 p.m. in council chambers at the County Administrative Building to review a draft budget and have the opportunity to ask questions.