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Cumberland’s council ponders potential police costs for future

Village will start to pay for service when its population hits 5,000
Cumberland will find out soon if it has to start paying directly for police costs. File photo

Feb. 9 will be the day Cumberland finds out if it has to start paying directly for police costs.

That’s when the census data are released, and the village’s population has been creeping toward 5,000 in recent years.

“That’s when we’re going to know if Cumberland’s above 5,000,” says Kevin Plummer, senior program manager for RCMP Contract Administration.

The figure is the threshold for communities at which point they have to take over the 70 per cent of police costs from the province. The federal government covers the other 30 per cent, though the local percentage increases to 90 per cent when communities’ populations get to 15,000.

To get ready, RCMP representatives met with council at a committee meeting in late January to go over how the funding works and the different models for police service agreements. The delegation included Plummer and Katherine St. Denis, the director of B.C. RCMP Service Delivery Police Services Division Policing and Security Branch.

“The minister does have the responsibility for ensuring that there is an adequate level of policing across the entire province,” she said.

During the presentation, Plummer provided an overview of options for communities, with different types of agreements depending on what a community chooses.

“Municipalities reach that decision on their own,” he said.

To fund policing, provinces charge small communities pay a police tax, but when they reach the population threshold of 5,000, they instead have to cover costs directly for service.

They can choose to establish a municipal police department, set up an agreement with the province for their own RCMP detachment or go into an agreement with another community’s detachment. Whatever the choice, it comes with costs.

“Municipalities must bear the necessary expenses,” Plummer said.

Members of council had concerns about costs in the event of serious crimes that might require special police units. The RCMP representatives conceded it could be expensive in such cases.

He broke down the regular costs that communities must pay, which include the 70 per cent of costs for police members. Some things the local government covers 100 per cent, such as support staff, accommodations — for example, the detachment — and equipment.

The timeline could be tight for a community hitting the 5,000 mark to enter into an agreement, which would need to be lined up quickly. There would need to be a determination of the level of service based on an assessment of historic workloads. At present, Plummer said, there are officers earmarked for Courtenay and Comox, which pay for service. Another 19 members serve other areas, including Cumberland. Part of the process, to be based on service levels, would determine how many of the 19 would be dedicated to Cumberland.

Mayor Leslie Baird pointed out that at present the community has had to share police with communities such as Hornby Island, Denman Island and Mount Washington, which depending on demand in other places can leave Cumberland without service.

“We have been left behind sometimes with no police in our community because of those areas,” she said.

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While council did not make a choice, and may not need to for at least five more years, the sentiment seemed to be toward contracting with the current regional detachment at whatever point the community has to start paying for police. The village has been putting aside money into reserves to help with the transition.

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