SPRINGHILL – Springhill Mayor Max Snow has appointed a steering committee to explore alternate sources of policing for the town.
This will include talking to the current police department to determine if there are ways to provide the citizens with a level of service that is affordable to taxpayers.
The move comes a month after an interest arbitration award between the town, its police commission and the Local 203 of the Atlantic Police Association that represents the town’s unionized police officers.
“Currently, the costs of protective services consume approximately 40 per cent of the total annual budget of Springhill,” the mayor said in a news release on Wednesday. “This award will increase that percentage to approximately 44 per cent of the budget. The Town of Springhill cannot afford increases like that and the citizens cannot stand another tax increase. Raising taxes is not an option.”
Despite the town’s argument that it’s ability to pay is limited, the union was awarded increases of 18.5 per cent over four years for 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.
In addition, the town’s dispatchers were awarded three per cent annually for four years.
The town was offering 1.5 per cent for each of the years.
With the increase, a constable with two years service will see his pay increase to $70,253, a corporal goes to $71,658, a sergeant goes to $73,063 and the deputy chief rises to $75,873.
Dispatchers pay increases to $33,618.
The mayor said with benefits added in, the cost to the town will be $399,209 over the life of the contract that expires in April 2014.
Snow said the town has limited options to deal with the salary increases. One option is to run a deficit – something not permitted by the Municipal Government Act, while another option is to increase taxes – something the mayor said is impractical considering Springhill residents already pay the third highest property taxes in Nova Scotia.
Canso, he said, has the highest residential taxes and recently voted to surrender its status as a town while Bridgetown, with the second, recently had major financial difficulties that resulted in Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations to get involved.
Springhill, he added, is already dealing with a $380,000 budget shortfall from 2009-10 that was partially a result of a police pension deficiency. Because of this the town was forced to increase taxes to $2.25 per $100 taxable assessment, while it is also eliminating its deficit over a four-year period that was approved by the province.
The third option, he said, is to cut services. For council, the mayor said, this poses the challenge of deciding which services to cut to pay for the higher wages.
“Street paving, sidewalks and so on will have to be placed on the back burner for now. The town has been working diligently to reduce its long-term debt to free up funds for these much-needed services but any decrease in our debt payments will be offset by these increases in payroll costs,” the mayor said.
The mayor said citizens will be notified before any significant changes are made and that security will be in place during any transition period.
Union president Const. Doug Williams said his membership is hoping the town will opt to maintain its municipal police department and pointed out he will be urging officers to avoid jumping to conclusions.
“No one wants to lose their jobs. Some of us have been here for close to 30 years and we don’t want to have to move on,” Williams said. “I’ve told the members it’s just a review that is not only looking at alternate services but also maintaining the police force. The main thing is we want our officers to stay calm and continuing doing our work.”
This is not the first time Springhill has looked at changing how it’s policed. In the late 1990s, under then mayor Mary Dee MacPherson, the town considered switching to the RCMP. However, soon after the 2000 election, when the late Bill Mont returned to the mayor’s office, the town voted 5-1 to keep the municipal police department.