UPDATED: Taxpayers take on policing costs as Creston population tops 5,000

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  • Feb. 8, 2012 1:00 p.m.

Creston taxpayers can expect a significant increase to their property taxes — as high as 18 per cent eventually — after the release of census numbers this morning shows the town’s population is now 5,306.

“It’s done, so now what do we do? Start finding solutions,” Mayor Ron Toyota said this morning, within hours of learning the census news.

Under the provincial policing funding structure, municipalities with populations of more than 5,000 must pay for the number of RCMP officers assigned to the town, plus a share of the costs of operating the police station (they also have the option of creating their own municipal police forces, like Nelson has done). Until now, Creston taxpayers have paid a small portion toward provincial policing.

Toyota said the formula the town has been given will require the town to pay for eight of the 13 officers (including commanding officer Staff Sgt. Bob Gollan) assigned to the detachment, at more than $140,000 each, which includes salaries, benefits, administration and related costs. Creston will also lose a pro-rated share of rent revenue that it has received since building the police station on 16th Avenue in 1999.

“I will try to get a meeting arranged with the minister of public safety and solicitor general’s office in Victoria, because I think the formula that says Creston requires eight of the 13 officers is outrageous,” he said. “Does that mean that only five officers will be policing all of the rural areas, from Yahk to Riondel? I don’t think so. Directors [John] Kettle (Regional District of Central Kootenay Area B), [Larry] Binks (Area C) and [Garry] Jackman (Area A) should be screaming blue murder.”

Since the 1990s, Creston town councils have held their collective breaths during each census, knowing that going over the magic 5,000 number would mean a big taxation hit for municipal residents. In fact, a reserve fund of more than $1 million was established more than a decade ago to help ease the transition. It has been collecting interest ever since.

“There are lots of variables and fuzzy areas, and I’m still hoping the provincial government will show some flexibility,” Steffan Klassen, the town’s finance and corporate services director, said this morning. “But, without the use of the reserve fund, the additional costs to taxpayers will be about 30-34 per cent on the municipal portion of their property taxes — that translates to an approximately 18 per cent increase to their property tax total.”

Klassen said he felt that the provincial formula, largely based on criminal code callouts, creates inconsistent results, and pointed out that some similar sized municipalities in the province have only four police officers assigned to them.

“Council will have to decide how to use that reserve now,” Toyota said. “Do we roll it all into the 2012-2013 budget, or spread it out over, say, five years? That will be part of our discussions. …

“On the positive side, Creston town council will have a much greater say in how policing is done in town, and we should be seeing more visibility of RCMP officers in town.”

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Nelson Star reporter Greg Nesteroff compiled the information below to show the population changes in the West Kootenay-Boundary region, including the Creston Valley.