Oliver town council is expected to give final reading to the town’s five-year financial bylaw at their next regular meeting on Feb. 25, which includes a second consecutive tax increase of 9 per cent.
The recurring tax increase was included in the previous council’s plan to prepare for police costs that will come due when the town’s population tops 5,000.
“We looked at it, evaluated it and in consideration of the costs that are going to come to Oliver, we really had little opportunity to change that,” said Oliver Mayor Martin Johansen, speaking to the Western News on Wednesday. “Unless we want to do it all at the eleventh hour so to speak and increase taxes by 50 per cent or so at that time.”
Oliver’s population is expected to cross the 5,000 person threshold following the next Canadian census in 2021, resulting in the town having to pay 70 per cent of police costs compared to the current 30 per cent.
RCMP staff appeared at Oliver council’s last regular meeting on Feb. 11 when the council approved the first three readings of the bylaw. However, Johansen said it was challenging to get an answer on how much 70 per cent of police costs will amount to.
“I found it challenging because they didn’t really want to dig into it too much right now. They say costing can change so much with pay increases for the RCMP or additional costs,” Johansen said. “So they generally only want to work with municipalities a year or a year-and-a-half before you actually have to have an RCMP municipal workforce.”
Johansen said council was left with a lot of unanswered questions, such as how many municipal RCMP officers Oliver will have, what Oliver will ultimately have to pay, and whether or not the increase in police costs will result in lower crime rates.
“It’s a considerable amount of cost and I know there’s been some discussion around crime rates in Oliver and people wanting to feel safe,” he said, adding that his constituents are looking for value for money. “If RCMP costs are going to increase by that much, there’s going to be an expectation that things are going to improve here.
That’s something we’re definitely working with the RCMP on.”
Johansen said the town has formed a public safety and crime prevention advisory committee with terms of reference that include looking at improving the efficiency of the RCMP.
Another thing Johansen wants answered is why there can’t be a more tiered approach to the police cost increase, especially for small communities.
“This is a huge amount of money to expect a community to raise,” he said. “One year you’re paying $275,000, the next you’re paying $1 million dollars, literally, for the same service.
“I need to raise that (issue) with the province, the Union of BC Municipalities, and have those conversations with our MLA Linda Larson.”
Larsen later told the Western News she is in full support of Johansen’s push for a tiered approach, having pushed for the same thing when she was mayor of the town.
“Back in the late ’90s and early 2000s we had a committee of 13 communities around the province that got together every year because they were all on that threshold.
“We met consistently and tried to come up with ideas, tried to get anybody interested at all in the tiered approach,” Larson said. “But we never made any progress.”
Larson said she met with the solicitor general and superintendent of the RCMP to no effect.
“There has not been a year that it has not been pursued by every small community, including Osoyoos,” she said. “We are up against a very old, heavy, federal machine.”
Still, Johansen said he’ll be seeking opportunities to revisit the issue.
“I still go back to the same thing. A 1 per cent tax increase for Oliver is $16,000 and we have to come up with $750,000 to pay for the RCMP, no choice,” he said.
Johansen also said he’ll be engaging other communities that have already gone through the same thing, such as Peachland and Osoyoos.
In the meantime, the money raised from the 9 per cent tax increases is going toward infrastructure capital renewal.
“We’re getting the town’s infrastructure into much better shape than it is today so that when the RCMP costs go online, that money will not be spent on capital anymore, it will be spent on RCMP costs,” Johansen said, adding that sidewalk improvements, curb extensions, traffic calming and other projects are on the books.
“We do have some reserves that are being built up as well for RCMP,” he added. “Some of it is to make sure we have money if there is a major crime incident that happens, because that’s another thing we’ll have to take on when RCMP costs increase in the future.”
Johansen said so far, they’ve saved about $36,000 for RCMP cost increases.
A request for comment from the South Okanagan RCMP detachment was not returned before press time.
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