Kamloops taxpayers will shoulder an increase in police costs in 2022, but how big a bill is still being tabulated.
In August, RCMP members ratified their first collective agreement between the federal Treasury Board and the National Police Federation, providing a 23.7 per cent pay increase over six years, retroactive to 2017.
Communities across Canada, including Kamloops, are now examining the details of the deal and how it impacts them. The contract covers RCMP members below the rank of inspector — which applies to most of Kamloops’ 132 officers — as well as reservists, with pay rates changing within 90 days of the contract’s Aug. 6 signing.
Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian said the contract will result in a tax increase in 2022 and expects the rise in police costs to be “significant.”
“The RCMP will be better served by this new contract — I think it’s been overdue — but the funding of it is going to be something the taxpayers need to be prepared for,” he said.
How much of a cost taxpayers will bear remains unclear.
Christian said the hit to taxpayers will be offset by annual contributions the municipality has been making to its police reserve fund since 2018 in anticipation of the contract.
“It won’t be the full 24 per cent,” Christian said, noting the city also doesn’t generally operate with its full complement of officers.
Michael Helfrich, the city’s business manager for community protective services, said staff are in the middle of assessing the impact of the new contract on the police budget.
Christian said he is expecting to receive a report on the new police costs from the finance department in November as budget talks ramp up, noting the amount will depend on the complement of officers Kamloops has had over the contract term, back pay and the mix of ranks at the Kamloops detachment, along with their new pay scales going forward.
“You put all that into a hopper and we’ll come out with a tax increase,” he said.
As the new contract was a national negotiation, Christian believes the federal government should be on the hook for the lump sum of back pay Kamloops officers will receive — a point he wants to make with whomever becomes the next member of Parliament for Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo following the Sept. 20 federal election.
Asked if there was a way around increasing taxes, Christian said the police force could be reduced, but that’s an option he doesn’t think is wise.
“I don’t think it would signal the right direction to be reducing the number of police officers,” he said, noting increased calls for service regarding street-related issues.
While the added cost will hit taxpayers, Christian said the pay is needed because of recruitment and retention struggles.
Christian said it is his understanding the RCMP is one of the lowest-paying police forces in Canada.
“What that means is you don’t get the brightest and best candidates applying to [RCMP Academy] Depot because they could apply to the Justice Institute and wind up in Abbotsford, Victoria or Vancouver [municipal forces] at a lot more money,” Christian said.
A 2017 press release from the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada stated RCMP members were 14.4 percent behind comparable police officers in terms of overall compensation.
According to the RCMP’s new pay scale, a first-class constable who earned $86,110 annually in 2016 will earn $106,576 by April 2022, while a corporal who made $94,292 five years ago would see a pay bump to $116,702 next year.
The new federal contract runs until March of 2023.
Given its population size, Kamloops splits police costs with the federal government, with the city picking up 90 per cent of the costs.
The total cost for the city’s RCMP contract for officers is approximately $23 million a year and fluctuates annually, depending on utilization, city officials told KTW.
Contractual services for police protection was $22.9 million in 2017, $24.3 million in 2018, $25.4 million in 2019 and a budgeted $27.3 million in 2020, according to the city’s 2020-2024 financial plan.
The police budget is the city’s largest line item, accounting for about 12 per cent of the total annual budget.
The city is also in the middle of negotiating a new contract for its firefighters — something Christian said he doesn’t think the RCMP contract will impact as those talks are based more on contracts with other fire departments. Kamloops Fire Rescue’s contract and pay scale is based on the average of a number of Lower Mainland fire departments.
—This story was changed from an earlier version to correct the year to which the RCMP contract is retroactive.