By Councillor Jim Elford
It seems to be the appropriate time of year to discuss some of the factors that make up the Town of Creston’s municipal taxation. One portion of our municipal taxation is the cost of policing. In 2011, Creston’s population went over 5,000 people and the town became immediately responsible for the majority of the policing costs (70 per cent). The result was an increase in property taxation of 34 per cent for the municipal taxpayer, phased in over five years by using a police reserve fund created for that purpose.
Recently, Town of Creston staff made a written presentation to the Provincial Committee Reforming the Police Act about the inequity in policing costs between municipal and rural areas. For example, in 2021, a home in Creston with a property assessment of $237,000 pays $264.52 annually for policing. A rural property in RDCK Area A with the same property assessment pays only $24.43 for policing. Further, a home in Creston that has a property assessment of $515,900 pays a policing cost of $575.81 annually, while a home with the same assessed value in a rural area pays only $53.19 in property tax. Staff provided an interesting photo of two homes that are side by side on Juniper Street, where one home paid $352 annually in policing costs, while their next door neighbour paid $65 per year in policing. The difference in the two homes is that the property line between them is also the municipal boundary. Town of Creston staff have now been invited to make a presentation before the Special Provincial Committee for Reforming the Police Act.
The main issue is that policing in rural and small communities (less than 5,000 population) is subsidized by the Province, whereas there is no provincial subsidization when a municipality has a population of over 5,000 people. Further, the Town of Creston pays for seven of the 13 Creston RCMP members (more than half) and yet the incident volume between municipal incidents and all the rural areas served by the Creston RCMP are about 50/50. The cost of policing for the Town of Creston taxpayer is over 542 per cent higher than the rural taxpayers in Area B, and even more in Area A. Does that seem equitable and fair simply because our population exceeds 5,000 people? We all pay provincial taxes. Why are rural properties and communities under 5,000 people receiving subsidized policing when others receiving the same policing services are not?
In addition to the direct taxation costs, Town of Creston taxpayers are responsible for the “Keep of Prisoner” costs, which averages to be $70,000 per year. The Town of Creston must pay for the total “Keep of Prisoner” costs, yet only 25 per cent are prisoners from the municipality, while the remaining 75 per cent are from outside the Town of Creston. The Province then only pays a fraction of the actual “Keep of Prisoner” costs incurred by the Town of Creston. This was all part of the imposed Provincial policing contract in 2011 that does not allow for negotiations.
When the Creston RCMP building became mortgage free a few years ago, the Province reduced its payments to only include operating costs and capital expenditures for the Provincial portion of the building with no consideration of a rent payment to the Town whom owns the building. A reasonable rent figure would be approximately $135,000 annually. Part of the reason the Province doesn’t pay rent is due to the original 1998 lease agreement, when the Town of Creston borrowed money and built the RCMP detachment. The original agreement included a clause that once the building was paid for, the Province would not have to pay rent. As aforementioned, the Province does pay a portion of operating and maintenance costs, but there are no funds that have been set aside for future upgrades or building replacements which rental revenues could be applied towards through establishing a reserve fund. Town staff continue to advocate for the negotiation of a new contract to increase rent for the Provincial portion of the building.
The Town of Creston has prepared an excellent submission to the Committee on Reforming the Police Act with a goal of having the Province change the outdated and inequitable funding model for policing. Further, based on staff recommendation, council has submitted a request to the Attorney General that requests the consideration for Town of Creston taxpayers to be responsible for the costs for fewer police officers based on the population served by the Creston RCMP Detachment and crime statistics. As a second term councillor, I very much appreciate the dedication of our Town staff to our citizens, and their efforts to continually work towards fairness and equity in our taxation system!