Cities in Thompson-Okanagan look at raising taxes to pay for RCMP salary hike | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Cities in Thompson-Okanagan look at raising taxes to pay for RCMP salary hike

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September 01, 2021 - 7:30 AM

Thompson-Okanagan cities are preparing for a salary increase for the RCMP detachments they contract.

The National Police Federation, the union that represents RCMP officers across the country, reached a deal with the federal government that will see salaries for all non-management and civilian employees increase, along with back pay dating back to 2017.

Salaries have been frozen for these officers for five years. After negotiations with the federal government, the National Police Federation came to a collective agreement that will raise salaries for its nearly 20,000 unionized members.

According to the union, the tentative agreement was announced June 28, then finally ratified on July 24.

"Pleased to confirm that, following a strong ratification vote, the parties recently signed the first-ever collective agreement for RCMP members below the rank of inspector (from which point they are considered management, whom we don’t represent)," National Police Federation spokesperson Fabrice de Dongo said in an email to iNFOnews.ca. "We won’t be sharing details of the agreement, though."

RCMP wages have been generally lower than municipal police forces across Canada and could incentivize an officer to seek better compensation at other police forces, like Lower Mainland municipalities, the Greater Victoria area or other provinces where it is more common for medium and larger cities to have their own police force.

"What was happening is there was an exodus of RCMP officers to other police forces," Kamloops mayor Ken Christian said. "The fact is RCMP have been underpaid by industry standards for last five years. My hope is with this equalization it will help our efforts to recruit."

Prior to the new agreement, constables first graduating from RCMP training start their salary at $53,144, which will then rise to $74,196 after their first year. Officers with the Abbotsford Police Department, for example, receive a salary of $78,970 after graduation, with a raise to $84,235 after their first year.

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Municipalities in the Thompson-Okanagan region, including Kamloops, Kelowna and Penticton, have been preparing for the upcoming raises but likely have not set aside enough funds to pay for it.

"(The city) will probably increase the RCMP budget by 22 to 24 per cent. We have been putting money away knowing this will happen," Kamloops chief administrative officer David Trawin said.

Trawin added that the city has set aside money for roughly a 2.5% increase each year in anticipation of an increase to RCMP salaries, but that has not amounted to the 23% needed.

Municipal taxes will be expected to increase, but staff at Kamloops and Okanagan cities are still working out those details to be presented in the 2022 budgets.

"For us, it's going to be around a 2% increase in taxes right across the board," Vernon mayor Victor Cumming said. "We're going to have to drink lots of water because we're gonna have to swallow hard."

The City of Vernon has set aside roughly $1.8 million in preparation for the proposed raises, but the back pay to RCMP officers will be dated for April 1, 2017 and cost the city closer to $2.2 million.

"One thing I am hoping is the federal government picks up the retroactive portion of this settlement because municipalities aren't party to the negotiation," Mayor Christian said. "It's difficult for our taxpayers to pick up the bill."

Mayor Cumming, however, calls that "wishful thinking," adding that while the back pay is larger than expected, municipalities were preparing for a collective agreement to be reached since wages were frozen in 2016.

Policing costs take up large chunks of city budgets, with $9.9 million tallied for Vernon. That's 22% of the city's entire 2021 budget.

Kamloops spent over $32 million on RCMP in 2020, while Penticton's budget accounted for nearly $9.8 million.

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In Kelowna, the city currently budgets just over $37 million for its RCMP contract, but director of corporate and protective services Stu Leatherdale said it's too soon to know how the salary increase will affect municipal taxes.

In Penticton, a city spokesperson said, similarly to Kelowna, that it's too soon to tell how the raise will affect budgets and municipal tax rates.

B.C. municipalities with populations of 15,000 or more pay 90% of their RCMP contracts, while the federal government picks up the remaining 10%. By comparison, centres of 5,000 people to 14,999 pay 70% of their RCMP contract.

This doesn't account for civilian staff or capital costs like a detachment or city cells, of which the municipalities covers the entire bill.

Despite the raises and large portion of city budgets already slated for RCMP contracts, the Vernon's mayor said the city gets a "smoking deal" for the policing service it gets.

"We get good value for money," Cumming said. "Our officers handle a very high case load per officer and are doing very good job."

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Cumming said the Vernon North Okanagan RCMP detachment has had difficulty in the past recruiting enough members for its population needs, but the last few years have improved and recruitment numbers of risen

Meanwhile, the City of Kamloops is short roughly 10 or 12 officers, according to Christian, and the raises could place extra pressure on budgeting the expenses to recruit an appropriate amount of officers for the population.


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