The federal government says it is willing to work with municipalities to help cover millions of dollars in retroactive pay for RCMP officers, but has stopped short of providing details.
Municipalities across British Columbia are on the hook for salary increases going back to 2017 as a part of the RCMP’s first-ever collective agreement, which was ratified last year.
The City of Surrey alone is facing a bill estimated at $46.6 million.
The Union of B.C. Municipalities says cities weren’t at the negotiating table, and has called on the federal government to help cover some of those costs.
On Wednesday, federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino was asked if the government would “help municipalities out.”
“The short answer is yes,” Mendicino said, adding that the government was working closely with municipalities and provinces on the issue.
“We’re continuing to keep open lines of communications and reconciling what we are hearing from the ground in municipalities around the challenges of making sure they are properly staffed with the independent processes that I’ve referred to — collective bargaining, as well as the conversations that are happening at the official level.”
Under the collective agreement for about 20,000 RCMP members, a constable will see a $20,000 annual salary bump as of April 1, while a staff sergeant will see a roughly $25,000 raise.
The national police force contracts its services as the police of jurisdiction to numerous British Columbia municipalities. The price for service varies depending on a community’s size, with the remaining cost split between provincial and federal governments.
B.C.’s Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth also responded to the cost concerns Thursday, saying local governments have been aware the bill was coming “for a number of years.”
“UBCM is part of the contract management committee. Local government has been preparing for this, so local government is responsible for these costs, and many municipalities have been doing just that anticipating that this bill would be coming due,” Farnworth said.
However some municipal leaders say that while they knew a bill was coming, the size of the bill was a surprise.
In Richmond, B.C.’s fourth most populous municipality, Mayor Malcolm Brodie estimated the back pay will cost the city a lump sum of between $9 million and $10 million, while salary increases going forward will add between $6 million and $7 million to the annual operating budget.
“Which for us is probably about a three per cent tax increase to cover that — so it’s serious stuff for us,” he told CKNW’s Jill Bennett Show Wednesday.
Brodie said Richmond had put money aside in anticipation of additional costs, but not enough and will have to dip into reserves to fully cover the back pay, while the salary increases are being phased into property taxes over three years.
He said at the very least, cities were owed better communication over the matter.
“It really should be the federal government speaking to both the province and the locals at the same time,” he added.
“Even if the end result is no different, you’re better prepared for it.”
— with files from Catherine Urquhart and Sean Boynton