THE PRELIMINARY FIGURES for the 2022 City of Kamloops budget haven’t yet come to council, but I’m predicting a large tax increase to offset the increased cost of policing.
Last week, the first collective agreement between the federal government and National Police Federation, the union representing RCMP officers, was announced. The agreement provides for a 23.7 per cent increase over six years.
That 23.7 per cent increase has to be paid by someone, and here in Kamloops, that someone is everyone who pays property taxes. If things proceed as they are, expect a large City of Kamloops tax increase for years to come to cover the 23.7 per cent increase.
Policing costs is one of the single biggest costs of the City of Kamloops budget. In 2020, policing costs accounted for $27.9 million of the City’s $204 million in expenditures, or 13.7% of the budget.
It is not just that policing is such a large portion of the City’s expenditures, but almost yearly, it has increased substantially.
In 2010, policing costs for City of Kamloops were $19.6 million out of a total budget of $146 million, or 13.4% of the overall City budget.
By 2019, the cost of policing had risen 29 per cent for a cost of $30.1 million out of a total City budget of $204.4 million.
COVID constraint brought a reduction to policing costs for the first time in more than a decade, so in 2020, the budget for policing costs dropped to $27.9 million. Reductions in staffing, likely aided by the difficulty in filling positions, temporarily cut the number of officers in the Kamloops detachment.
Don’t expect positions to continue to be unfilled or costs of the RCMP to remain as low as 2020.
Since the adoption of the 2021 budget, in February, council approved adding a new RCMP crime analyst to the RCMP contingent in Kamloops. As well, council pulled $970,000 out of the police reserve to keep the 2021 tax rate artificially low. Council cannot continually draw down reserves to pay for policing costs.
Even without the upcoming RCMP wage increases, policing costs were slated to go up. In the last 10 years, both increasing numbers of police, and increasing wages drove up the cost of policing in Kamloops. Now, the wages will be going up at an even faster rate.
The City of Kamloops is not much different than other municipalities in B.C. who contract with the RCMP for services. A 2019 report by the B.C. provincial Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General calculated the cost per capita for policing in Kamloops at $280 per capita. That compares to $352 per capita for Prince George, $292 per capita for Nanaimo, and $287 per capita for Kelowna.
The cost of policing in Kamloops is similar to other cities. The question is, is it the best use of our tax dollars?
Mental health, addictions and domestic violence are a large portion of what police deal with. These issues should not just be dealt with by police. City of Kamloops needs to look at other options when they spend our tax dollars other than just police.
Kamloops still does not have a second Car 40 to deal with mental illness calls. A Mental Health court is not available to help offenders with mental illness deal with confrontations with the law. There are no partnerships by the City with Interior Health to provide health-based programs for addictions and mental health that would give people healthier options.
Statistics Canada reports that 6% of Canadians over the age of 15 report physical or sexual violence at the hands of a current or past partner. In 2019, facing major budget shortfalls, Kamloops YMCA announced cuts to programs that serve women and children of domestic abuse. As one of the YMCA’s major funders, the City of Kamloops should be supporting their programs, rather than simply relying on the RCMP to respond to calls by people experiencing domestic violence.
From 2010 to now, the policing budget for City of Kamloops rose 29 per cent. With the 23.7 per cent increase in RCMP wages, we face even more substantial increases in policing costs in the years to come. Now is the time for City of Kamloops to re-examine policing costs.
Rather than keeping paying for ever escalating policing services, some of that money should go to other services that support addictions, mental health and domestic violence services. Now is the time to critically examine policing services in Kamloops and how better to spend our tax dollars.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.