If Amherst’s men and women in blue have an extra spring in their step these days, its likely because they just signed a new five-year contract retroactive to 2014 which is giving the police officers a 14.5 per cent increase in pay. Good on them.
Admittedly they have highly stressful jobs that often require shift work and exposure to unpleasant people and tragic situations. They play a crucial role in keeping our community safe and deserve proper compensation.
The big question we as taxpayers have to ask ourselves, though, is can we continue to sustain the current level of service as the cost of policing continues to become an unmanageable burden on this municipality? The general operating budget of this town is just over 17 million, 580 thousand dollars for this fiscal year. Of that total $4,180,000 is being spent on policing. That’s almost a quarter of the entire budget and it is whittling away at what is available for other government services.
I recognize this is a dilemma hardly unique to Amherst. Every community across the country with a municipal police force is facing a fiscal crisis in providing protective services. The irony is that while statistics show the volume and severity of crime in this country has been steadily declining, police strength has gone in the other direction.
With that, we’ve seen a steady increase of police wages and benefits which in most cases are outpacing inflation. There has also been increased pressure and demands from the federal and provincial levels of government on municipal leaders to ensure police departments are provided with the newest in technology and sophisticated equipment.
I recall the days when the cost of municipal policing services in rural Nova Scotia began to mushroom, in part because of some generous policing contracts secured by the then Police Association of Nova Scotia as a result of some hard-fought bargaining sessions.
The union succeeded in closing the wage gap between police officers in Halifax and those in smaller towns.
At the same time, the size of the Amherst force continued to grow while our population remained static. In the case of this most recent contract, it took an arbitrator’s decision to get a settlement and it will be back to the bargaining table once again in 2019 and another likely tug of war between union and management.
Admittedly, there is no easy fix here, but it is time our municipal leaders, through the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities, applied some political pressure on the other two levels of government, namely the province and Ottawa, to start taking some fiscal responsibility for a situation they have, in part, created.
Geoff deGannes is the past chairman of the Tantramar Radio Society. His daily commentaries can be heard on 107.9 CFTA.