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Police Funding

The provincial government is taking a look at how police in Alberta are funded. I am hopeful that significant changes will be made.

Police funding creates a HUGE inequity between Albertans who live in cities and those who live in counties, municipal districts, and cities and towns of under 5000 people. This graph shows how different types of municipalities need to allocate property tax dollars to policing:

Police Expense 1.jpg

For many Alberta cities, including Grande Prairie, police are the single biggest tax funded budget line. Meanwhile, most municipalities are not required to pay for the costs of police. But in 291 counties, municipal districts, and towns, the province provides general policing with no direct cost to property owners. Some of these municipalities voluntarily pay for extra “enhanced” policing, but the vast majority of their police costs are covered by provincial taxpayers.

Cities and towns with populations of 5000 or more are responsible to fund their own police through property taxes. But the province takes responsibility for police costs in other municipalities, including those with large urban “hamlets.”

In other words: across Alberta, city residents and businesses need to pay significant amounts of municipal property taxes to fund their own policing. They also have a portion of their provincial taxes go towards paying for police in surrounding municipalities.

This is a fundamentally unjust system. It leads to people living or running a business in a town or city of 5000+ needing to pay significantly more in property taxes than those in other municipalities.

The current funding model has been inequitable since it was created in 2005. However, it is becoming increasingly problematic now. Rural crime is a growing problem which requires increased resources. At the same time, our province is facing fiscal challenges.

As more demands are put on police while the province also seeks to reduce spending, it is appropriate to start requiring ALL municipalities to share in the cost of their policing.

I am very glad that the provincial government is following through on its election commitment to examine the police funding formula. I hope it moves forward with actually implementing change.

Following is some more information on problems with the current model and an explanation of the new model that is being explored by the province.

If you want to read about police funding from a source other than me, this document put out by the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association is a great explanation of the current funding formula and some of the problems with it.


What do police cost cities? And who do city police benefit?

Paying for police is a very significant burden on cities and towns of 5000+ people. Some numbers from Grande Prairie:

  • In 2019, Council budgeted $18,649,166 for the RCMP

  • This is the City’s single biggest budget item. It is more than $3,000,000 bigger than the Transportation budget, which is our second biggest budget item.

  • The RCMP budget is roughly equal to the combined budgets for Parks, Community Group Funding, and Transit

  • If the province paid the full cost of RCMP, like it does in most municipalities, we could reduce property taxes by ~17%

It should be noted that this expenditure by the City doesn’t just benefit our own residents.

In the ordinary course of events, City funded RCMP take care of City policing while provincially funded police take care of policing elsewhere in the region. However, if there is a high priority event in another municipality, City funded members will respond to it. Having over 100 City funded RCMP members ready to be mobilized makes our entire region safer.

Additionally, City funded police take part in Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT). Through ALERT, our members are contributing to operations across the province, including in municipalities which do not pay for their own police.

Like all other urban municipalities of over 5000+, the City of Grande Prairie dedicates a very large portion of its property tax to police. These City funded police don’t just keep City residents safe: they also benefit residents throughout our region and the entire province. Meanwhile, most benefiting municipalities not only get free access to City police, but they don’t even need to pay for their own police.

This is an inequitable and nonsensical arrangement. It should be changed.


Should rural residents really have to pay for police?

When police funding comes up, I often hear this argument: “people living out on a farm don’t receive frequent patrols and the police response time is long- they shouldn’t pay the same for police as someone living in a city.”

I 100% agree with this statement. Rural residents clearly receive lower levels of police service than urban residents. It makes no sense for someone living in the country to pay the same amount for police as someone living in a city pays.

Additionally, our whole province benefits from agricultural and resource activity happening in rural areas. It is appropriate for the province to offer some subsidization to this activity, and perhaps partially funding police is a good way to do that.

That being said, I think it makes sense for rural residents and businesses to pay for at least a portion of the police services they do receive.

I’m open to the idea that the funding of rural police should be based on a different model than the funding of urban police. However, the current funding model of “rural areas carry no direct cost for policing” makes no sense to me.

I also think that discussion about rural vs. city policing leaves out another important consideration: providing service to urban developments just outside city limits.


A Big Problem with the Current Model: Rur-ban Development.

It might make sense to have policing out in the country funded differently than it is funded in an urban area. However, across Alberta, there are developments that are completely urban in nature and are put right up against city boundaries. These are Rur-ban developments: urban developments in an otherwise rural municipality. Despite operating and generating tax revenue like an urban neighbourhood, these developments receive provincial subsidies (including free police) meant for rural areas.

An example most Albertans have driven through Gasoline Alley just south of Red Deer. It is in Red Deer County, so it pays no taxes to the City of Red Deer. And because it is in the County, its general policing is covered by the province. This allows businesses in Gasoline Alley to have low property tax rates. Meanwhile, businesses just a few kilometers north need to pay a significant amount of property tax to fund general policing.

Gasoline Alley is Alberta’s most glaring example of rur-ban development. However, this happens across the province. And it isn’t limited to commercial development. For example, in Grande Prairie, there are significant urban residential developments which are just outside of City limits. Some of these are closer to the RCMP station than neighbourhoods within in the City. Yet these neighbourhoods just outside city limits don’t need to pay any direct cost for general policing.

I don’t see a significant difference between policing these rur-ban developments and policing similar neighbourhoods within city limits. It doesn’t make sense to me that a property just inside City limits needs to pay for its own police, while a very similar property just outside city limits has its police paid for by the province.

This is especially troubling due to the demographics differences between many cities and their neighbours.

According to Statistics Canada in 2016, City of Grande Prairie families had a median incomes of only 85% of the median incomes of County families. Additionally, City families were 1.5 times more likely than County families to be single parent led and two times as likely to be low income. Lower income families are being asked to pay significantly more for policing than more advantaged families just outside of city limits. That is a fundamentally unjust arrangement. And it isn’t unique to Grande Prairie.

Rur-ban developments often have a greater ability to pay for police than do developments within city limits. Properties within neighbourhoods like this should be required to pay for their own policing.


New Funding Model: A Long Time in the Making

Our current funding model is inequitable, and there is no good reason for it. I’m glad to see the province taking a look at it.

That being said, there are parties opposed. And in some of their arguments against examining the funding formula, they express surprise at the province’s current course. In light of this opposition, it is important to know that this funding review isn’t an unexpected action from the province.

There has been talk about changing the police funding formula since it was first instituted in 2005.
Some of the most recent conversations:

  • In 2013, the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties published this paper exploring different funding models.

  • In 2016, the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association passed this resolution urging the province to adopt a more “fair and equitable [police] funding strategy.”

  • In 2018, while the NDP was in power, the province initiated a review of the Police Act. I attended several meetings to represent the City, and can attest that the funding model was a big topic of conversation during this review (it’s the main reason I took part in the review).

In its election platform, the United Conservative Party pledged to “consult with municipalities on the province’s funding formula for police services.” It is now following through on this promise. Which is a very good thing.


The New Funding Proposal

You can click here to read the funding model currently being proposed. The basics of it:

  • There are 291 communities which do not directly pay for general policing through their property taxes. They represent ~20% of Alberta.

  • These communities would begin paying a percentage of their front line policing costs. In 2018/19, the province’s cost to police these communities was $232.5 million.

  • The province would ask these 291 municipalities to pay somewhere between 15% and 70% of this $232.5 million cost

  • The share of this provincial policing cost that each municipality pays would be based on its equalized assessment (ie: how much taxable property it has) and its population.

  • Municipalities with high shadow populations (ie: people who work in the municipality but pay residential property taxes elsewhere) or a high Crime Severity Index would receive subsidies from the province.

Understandably, there are many municipalities expressing opposition to this proposal. Their main concern: this would create a substantial cost for them. They would be forced to either raise taxes, or decrease some of their services.

This would be a challenge for them. But urban municipalities are already facing the challenge of figuring out how to balance rising police costs against needs for other services and a desire to have low taxes.

I would suggest that it is fair to ask the municipalities not currently paying for police to start doing so. If anything, the province should be asking them to pay even more than it is proposing. Under the current proposal, municipalities which are currently paying for their own police would still face these inequities when compared to other municipalities:

  • The Police Act makes cities with 5000+ fully responsible for their policing. Under this proposal, other municipalities would only be sharing in 15-70% of their policing costs.

  • Cities with populations of 5000+ do not receive financial subsidy from the province due to having high Crime Severity Indexes

  • My understanding is that the proposal is only asking municipalities to pay for the cost of RCMP officers, not for civilian support. Cities of 5000+ not only need to pay for RCMP members, but they also need to pay significant amounts for civilians to support them.

The new funding proposal is a great step towards more equality in our police funding. However, it is important to note that it still is asking cities and towns of 5000+ people to carry a disproportionate burden of the costs for police.

Following is a graph showing what different types of municipalities would pay under the proposed funding model. This graph assumes that municipalities which don’t currently pay for police would start funding 70% of their costs. There would still be a big difference between them and cities of 5000+ people. This inequality would increase immensely if only 15% of costs were being recovered.

Police Expense 2.jpg

An Important Consideration: Enhanced Policing

As we discuss this, it would be unfair for me to not highlight one important component of the current funding model: many municipalities that aren’t required to pay for police do pay for enhanced RCMP members.

Above, I’ve been careful to say that most municipalities are not required to directly pay for “general policing.” The province pays for base police service in these communities. However, some of these communities feel that this base policing is not enough. So they pay for “enhanced police positions” to provide additional services such as extra investigation resources, traffic patrols, and school resource officers.

An example of this: the County of Grande Prairie is not required to pay anything for policing. The province will take care of all policing in the County without property owners needing to contribute. However, to its credit, the County Council decided to invest extra resources into police. It pays for six enhanced members, which costs it close to $1,000,000 per year. You can find out more about this program in the County of Grande Prairie by clicking here.

But I would still suggest that those municipalities who do not currently pay for general policing should be asked to start contributing to it. Paying for enhanced positions is not enough: they should also pay for a portion of their base needs.


That’s my take on the police funding model. It is outdated and inequitable. It needs to be changed. No municipality should receive general policing at no direct cost.

I’m glad that the province is looking at making much needed changes. Our government should be commended.

I’d love to hear what you think. Do you have any questions about the current model? Do you agree that it should be changed? If it should be changed: is the current proposal asking enough from municipalities, or should it ask more?

Finally, if you agree that it should be changed: I’d encourage you to reach out to your MLA and let them know your thoughts. Implementing change like this takes political courage. Hearing from constituents in favour can make a big difference.

Thanks for reading!

-Dylan

NOTE: This post was edited on October 11th. The graphs and the paragraph immediately preceding them were added