Hiring a former RCMP inspector as its chief administrative officer has helped the City of Williams Lake reduce its policing costs drastically.
Milo MacDonald, who left a 20-plus-year career with the RCMP to become the CAO in 2016, and chief financial officer Vitali Kozubenko have achieved an annual savings between $750,000 to $1 million, said finance committee chair Scott Nelson during the Tuesday, Jan. 21 committee of the whole meeting.
“They have worked over the bills tirelessly,” Nelson said of their efforts and credited Coun. Ivan Bonnell for pushing continuously to have the police bills scrutinized.
“It’s a big jackpot for the community. Over a 10-year period that savings could pay the City’s debt off.”
MacDonald told the Tribune it has been a matter of going over every single line item on invoices the City receives from the RCMP.
They have returned invoices for recalculation and had conversations with the province and the RCMP about what are acceptable costs associated with Williams Lake’s Municipal Police Unit Agreement (MPUA).
“As a result, we had a forecast policing budget of $4.9 million, but we just received our first quarterly invoice of roughly $900,000,” MacDonald said. “If the remaining three invoices for the year come in close to that then our annual costs will be closer to $4 million than $5 million.”
In 2012, the federal government terminated RCMP members’ entitlement to accumulate severance pay for voluntary resignations and retirements.
The RCMP proposed municipalities share the cost of the severances, which MacDonald said average between $15,000 and $20,000.
Williams Lake has taken the position that because it has not benefitted from having many officers with seniority, it is not going to pay the liquidation of severances for the average service, he added.
“Another thing we’ve said is that there was no consultation in the decision to liquidate the severance pay and it’s not a liability we accept. They had been sending us invoices quarterly for $15,000 and we said we are not going to pay them.”
Their efforts have also resulted in the occupancy rate at the detachment being reduced from $220 a metre down to $173 a metre.
“It’s still way too high,” MacDonald said, noting when the RCMP wouldn’t honour the new price, the City recalculated the invoice and sent it back.
At a local level, Williams Lake receives extraordinary policing service from a dedicated group of officers, he added.
“The entire team is excellent, they are giving their time away, even coming in on their time off. That’s not the issue. The issue is the under funding of policing provincially. They are looking at ways to recapture their costs and that is at the expense of municipalities.”
Somebody has to pay for it, the City understands that, he said, but they have been insisting it be done fairly and in accordance with the MPUA agreement that binds them and when the costs are calculated that there is someone advocating for the municipalities.
MacDonald noted in 2010, the City’s policing costs were $2.4 million annually and the forecast for 2020 was $4.9 million.
“During this time period the province’s policing costs have not increased, but ours have more than doubled. These are the kinds of costs that are downloaded onto municipalities.”