Potential move ‘devastating’, says HP Mayor Panasiuk

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

News last week surfacing that towns like High Prairie and Falher could once again pay for RCMP policing costs is raising alarm bells.

“It’s downloading costs onto the municipalities,” says High Prairie Mayor Brian Panasiuk. “To me, that’s not right.”

The bill to the Town of High Prairie could reach over $500,000 which would obviously put a huge dent in the budget.

Currently, all towns in Alberta under 5,000 population do not pay for policing. High Prairie was one of several communities in Alberta who led the lobby for the Alberta government to pay for policing in 2002-04. The lobby was successful when on March 24, 2004 the government announced all communities in Alberta under 5,000 population would not pay for policing. At the time, High Prairie saved over $500,000 a year in policing costs.

The news broke last week when the Alberta NDP leaked documents from a governing United Conservative Party government’s slide show presentation citing the possibility of the move.

Currently, there are 291 small municipalities, or 20 percent of Alberta’s population, that don’t pay for policing through municipal taxes.

Panasiuk says he can see both sides of the issue, adding a community just over 5,000 population would be upset. But as far as High Prairie is concerned, the move would be devastating.

In a news conference, Opposition Leader Rachel Notley was quick to criticize the government.

“In the last election, the UCP ran on protecting rural people from crime. What they didn’t say is that rural people would have to pay the cost …” she said.

“This is a complete 180 and is a broken promise to rural Albertans, plain and simple,” she said.

The UCP proposal calls for communities to paying 15 to 70 per cent for front-line policing, if implemented.

“It’s devastating to pay for 70-80 per cent of costs,” says Panasiuk.

Based on the figure of $500,000 15 years ago, the cost is likely over $600,000 today. Based on 80 per cent, the policing bill would be $480,000.

Notley says that could mean a tax increase of $145 to $406 per person per year to maintain policing.

“Communities paying for additional services might not afford to do so,” said Notley. “You could see a drop in services.”

The UCP didn’t deny the proposal but scoffed at the NDP.

“The assertions made by the fear-mongering NDP are ridiculous and unfounded …,” Doug Schweitzer, justice minister and solicitor general, wrote in an e-mailed statement to Edmonton media outlets.

Panasiuk says the topic will be brought forward at the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association conference Sept. 25-27 in Edmonton. The Town of High Prairie meets with the RCMP Sept. 27 on other issues and although they do not make the decisions, it will be discussed. They will, however, discuss the matter with Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn.

The proposal for small towns to pay for policing is not new since the government’s decision in 2004. On Oct. 1, 2014, South Peace News reported on the Edmonton Police Commission’s desire to have all towns in Alberta charged for policing. At the time, High Prairie’s CAO, Keli Tamaklo, who served on the commission, voted in favour of the proposal despite its devastating effects on High Prairie, if implemented.

“It’s been rearing its head ever few years,” says Panasiuk.

An effort to reach Town of Falher Mayor Donna Buchinski for comment was unsuccessful.

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