ST. MARY’S – It wasn’t what anyone around the council table wanted to hear, but Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s Director of Finance Marian Fraser wasn’t mincing words.
“RCMP and policing costs will be going up an estimated 11.04 per cent,” she said March 16 during the committee of the whole’s consideration of the district’s draft operating capital budget for 2022-23. “So that means, from last year’s budget, this would be an increase of $76,000. It’s a lot. It’s a big hit.”
The news, which dropped like a stone, didn’t prevent Councillor Beulah Malloy (District 4, Indian Harbour Lake and Sonora Area) from asking: “Have we been in touch with any of the government officials to see why we’re just hearing about this?”
CAO Marissa Jordan confirmed that staff have been “trying every representative we have for the FCM (Federation of Canadian Municipalities) to see if we could find more information prior to the budget and [we] just received that [information] a couple days ago.”
The FCM has been warning about a precipitous hike in RCMP costs — thanks to a collective agreement between the federal government and National Police Federation — across the country since late last year. FCM vice-president Geoff Stewart noted in a November statement that the settlement provided a 23.7 per cent increase over six years, with retroactive pay going back to 2017.
“Maintaining effective police services is a top priority,” he said, “Yet, municipalities cannot run deficits and we have limited revenue tools,” said Stewart. “We’re asking the federal government to absorb all retroactive costs associated with the implementation of the new agreement.”
Fraser noted that RCMP and education, both of which are “provincial mandatory expenses” to the municipality, are two of the largest budget items for St. Mary’s.
In 2021-22, the budget for RCMP and Corrections was $537,387, compared with $525,542 the year before. The new number for the 2022-23 fiscal year hovers just over the $600,000 mark, which would match or slightly exceed the $591,000 budgeted for education in 2021-22.
Meanwhile, Fraser said, “We’re expecting projecting our expense for education this year [2022-23] to be $606,000,” which would amount to a basic cost-of-living increase of 2.5 per cent.
Despite the hit, however, Fraser reported that higher-than-average revenues (mostly from deed transfer taxes and provincial equalization payments) and prudent budgeting in other spending areas will likely result in a balanced budget for 2022-23 of $3.4 million, compared with just under $3 million for 2021-22.