Policing costs to increase if population exceeds 5,000

The 2016 Census will soon be underway and residents of Fernie stand to be financially impacted by the results.

The 2016 Census will soon be underway and residents of Fernie stand to be financially impacted by the results.

If Fernie’s population exceeds 5,000 in the 2016 Census, the City of Fernie will be required to enter a Municipal Police Unit Agreement (MPUA) with the province and will be responsible for the majority of the costs to run a municipal RCMP detachment.

Currently, the City of Fernie pays a police tax to the province. In 2015, the City paid roughly $346,000 to the province to support the Elk Valley detachment. However, if the city were to breach 5,000 residents, that cost would substantially increase.

“If we go over 5,000 we would become responsible for paying 70 per cent of the policing costs and 100 per cent of what they call their accommodation costs and their admin support,” said City of Fernie’s Chief Administrative Officer, Jim Hendricks.

According to Hendricks, Fernie was close to exceeding the 5,000-resident threshold in 2006. The province provided the City with information on the budget breakdown and what they would be required to pay under the MPUA.

The final cost would be dependent on how many officers are required in the unit, as the City would be responsible for 70 per cent of all salary fees. The 2006 policing cost estimate cites a police detachment of six officers would cost $635,364, while seven officers would run $741,258 and eight officers would cost $847,152.  However, that estimate would be higher today due to inflation.

A 2013 presentation made by the City estimates that if Fernie were to exceed 5,000 residents in the 2016 Census, it would cost approximately $1.2 million. If the population weren’t to breach the 5,000 resident benchmark until 2021, it would cost $1.4 million, with an added three per cent for inflation.

The City does not have reserve funding set aside for this scenario, which would require it to generate the funds from general revenue, meaning property taxes.

“We don’t have a reserve dedicated to policing. If we were to go over in the 2016 Census, we would start paying in 2017 and we would have to essentially increase general revenues in order to start collecting that,” said Hendricks.

It would be an estimated one-time tax increase of 22 per cent to fund the MPUA. However, this figure does not account for the construction of a new detachment.

Under the MPUA, the City would be responsible for 100 per cent of the accommodation for the municipal police unit and its support staff. This includes furnished and serviced office space and jail cell facilities that are heated and have water service. It may also include heated and lighted garage space, if so determined by the municipal police unit.  It is likely the RCMP detachment in Fernie would need significant upgrades to be sufficient under these guidelines, or a new detachment all together may be required.

The 2011 Census reported Fernie’s official population as 4,448. For Fernie to hit the 5,000 mark, it would be a fairly large increase.

“For us to go over 5,000 on the 2016 Census, our population would have to grow by 12.5 per cent, which of course is possible, but it is a big number,” said Hendricks. “If you look at the last few Censuses, in 2001 the population was 4,611, in 2006 when they thought we were going to go over 5,000, it had actually dropped to 4,217 and then in 2011 it went up to 4,448, which was an increase of 231, which was a pretty big jump at that point in time. It was about a five per cent jump. And for us to go from 4,448, which was the 2011 Census, up to 5,000, we would have to increase by 552 which is a 12.4 per cent increase.”

With the City of Fernie incorporating the population of West Fernie in the coming years, it heightens the chance that the population will exceed 5,000 in the 2021 Census count. If the population does not exceed 5,000 in the 2016 Census, the City has at least five years to prepare for the increased costs.

Creston faced this situation in the 2011 Census, when their population increased to just over 5,300 – a 9.9 per cent increase from the 2006 Census.

“Growing to a community with a population exceeding 5,000 has been anticipated by the residents of Creston for over 15 years and we finally made the leap,” said a statement released by the Town of Creston in April 2012.

Creston had saved for their municipal RCMP detachment for 15 years and had a $1.1 million reserve dedicated to increased policing costs. Even with the reserve, property taxes increased by 12.72 per cent over a five-year period. Under their MPUA, they were responsible for seven officers and 1.5 administrative support staff and they were not financially responsible for any detachment upgrades. Their detachment includes six other officers that serve the surrounding areas outside of city boundaries.

The province is responsible for a the salary and accommodation costs of these six officers and their support staff.

Results for the 2016 Census will be released in early February 2017. If it does show that Fernie’s population exceeds 5,000 residents, the MPUA would begin on April 1, 2017 and the City of Fernie would be responsible for the costs on that date.