Federal, provincial response needed
© Darrell Cole – Amherst Daily News
Amherst Mayor Robert Small speaks to Rotarian Sue McIsaac after speaking to members of the Amherst Rotary Club on Monday. The mayor talked about the town’s strategic priorities, but also discussed the escalating cost of policing.
AMHERST – Springhill is not immune to policing costs that aren’t sustainable, says Amherst’s mayor.
Speaking to members of the Amherst Rotary Club on Monday, Robert Small said the tough decisions facing Springhill are similar to what many small towns are coming to grips with.
Small says police budgets are quickly getting too high for towns like Springhill and Amherst and suggested both the provincial and federal governments need to offer assistance to smaller municipalities.
“Policing costs right across Canada and the fact of the matter is we have to find a way of addressing these increased costs. We just can’t keep sustaining them,” the mayor said. “They are literally eating up the budgets of municipalities across Canada.”
Small’s comments come a week after Springhill Mayor Max Snow said his town is exploring alternate sources of policing because protective services, including the fire department, is taking up more than 40 per cent of the municipal budget.
Small said it’s important for municipalities such as Amherst to learn what other towns and cities are doing across the country to control police budgets.
“It’s a big number and the infrastructure is not getting any younger,” Small said. “We have to decide as a town what infrastructure you’re going to put in and what you can do to support your police force.”
The mayor said his town’s concern is not one that pits the municipal police department against what it would cost to, for example, bring in the RCMP. He said Amherst taxpayers and councillors are happy with their municipal police department. But, he said, sustaining its cost is something council is going to eventually have to come to terms with.
Small said he understands the situation Springhill is facing because it doesn’t have the tax base to support rising costs and is not in a position where it can raise taxes any higher. At the same time, though, he said legislation and other federal and provincial regulations are adding to the cost of policing.
Snow said his town needs to find ways to provide citizens with a level of service that is affordable to taxpayers. A recent arbitration award that gives unionized police offers an 18.5 per cent pay increase over three years and dispatchers nine per cent over three years will increase the protective services budget there to 44 per cent of the town’s overall budget.
In Amherst, protective services accounts for about 32 per cent of the budget.
Small said he has not spoken to the Springhill mayor about the possibility of having Amherst’s police department assume policing in Springhill through a regional police force, but he said it’s an idea that may deserve further exploration.