Alberni RCMP among busiest in BC, and budget reflects that

Policing will see a budget increase over the next five years, reflecting the calls for service that Port Alberni sees.

The city estimates a number of changes to police services going into 2017-2021, according to the draft of the five-year financial plan.

Policing will see a cumulative budget increase of 9.5 percent in the next five years, according to the financial plan. This was the one department that the city was not able to keep to five percent or lower, according to city CAO Tim Pley.

“Calls for policing services per capita in Port Alberni are among the highest in B.C. and policing costs per capita are among the highest in B.C.,” he pointed out during the Feb. 1 budget presentation. “For almost every one of our departments, calls for service are higher per capita because we have some socio-economic challenges here that drive work volume.”

The budget firstly envisions hiring a city-employed manager to manage staff to support the RCMP in the police department, at a $100,000 cost. In 2018, as a result of inserting a manager into the work site, the budget shows an $80,000 reduction in costs, although no one is sure yet what the actual reduction will be.

“We have a number of employees that work in that facility who deserve and need leadership and management and we need to put somebody there to do that for them,” said Pley. “This is a six million dollar contract the city has with the RCMP organization, and we could use a manager on that site to represent our interests.”

RCMP Inspector Brian Hunter agreed during the Feb. 8 round table meeting that the hiring of a manager would allow RCMP to do more policing, including proactive work.

“Members at the detachment are doing functions that support staff should be, just because they are so busy,” he said. “And they are actually behind on quite a few of their required functions at the office. Our admin functions are about three years behind at the detachment.”

He suggested that the $80,000 in savings could be found here, since $20,000 was spent last year in overtime on support staff, and $170,000 was spent on casuals last year to supplement the support staff.

Another major change the budget anticipates is the policing surplus. The city experiences what is called a surplus, but is actually an under expenditure of revenue that the city has been contracting to RCMP, largely because of the comings and goings of different officers that results in temporary vacancies. That money goes back to the city and gets put into a reserve fund for major policing costs.

The reserve fund is capped at a million dollars, and the cap is full now.

Based on that surplus, the city pays for 34 RCMP members, but only budgets for 33, relying on that surplus to come back and pay for the 34th member. The new budget proposes doubling that, budgeting for only 32 members and relying on a surplus of $334,000 every year to pay for two members.

“Based on previous years, there has been enough money to do that,” said Pley. “But going forward in order to do that in a financially responsible way, I would recommend that we remove the cap on the emergency reserve fund so that we allow it to get larger than a million dollars.”

Hunter agreed with removing the cap, pointing out, “It does not take long to eat up one million dollars on a major investigation. It can happen very, very quickly. We have some major files as we speak in our city that are expensive, and that’s what that fund is for.

“I feel that the city would be in a more comfortable situation if [the fund] was more, especially if the CAO is presenting a budget that is relying on using some of that.”