Urban Systems estimates that Salt Spring’s annual policing costs would jump by $871,000 under incorporation i.e. from the $407,000 per year we are paying now to $1,278,000 per year after the transition period. They then assume that expenditures would remain at that level in constant (inflation-adjusted) dollars. How realistic is their assumption?
A 2009 Union of BC Municipalities report found that “policing cost increases have been double the rate of increase in property taxes [and that] the increasing police expenses put pressure on other needed services as there is limited overall tax tolerance.” Here is a link to the 2009 UBCM report.
Has this trend continued since 2009? Urban Systems does not say anything about trends in municipal policing costs.
Historical costs for RCMP municipal detachments in BC were not readily available, but the table below shows historical policing costs in the nearby Town of Sidney (2016 population 11,672). Sidney’s policing costs have increased by 52% since 2009 – about 5 times the rate of inflation (using the Victoria consumer price index).
This same Sidney budget presentation shows that from 2013 to 2017, Sidney property taxes increased by more than twice the rate of inflation! Clearly, the increase in policing costs were helping drive up Sidney taxes.
The Sidney budget report notes that comparisons of rates of inflation and tax increases “must also consider:
- Changes in service level from one year to the next e.g.. Firefighter Hiring Plan, additional Policing.
- Non-discretionary increases over which the Town has no control e.g. Large increases to RCMP contract”
Urban Systems’ projection of the tax impact of policing costs assumes that there will be no increase in the size of the Salt Spring RCMP following incorporation and that policing costs will only increase at the rate of inflation (remain the same in constant dollars). The experience of Sidney and other BC municipalities shows Urban Systems’ assumption to be completely unrealistic.
Conclusion: Based on trends in policing costs, the Urban Systems projections seriously underestimate post-incorporation policing costs and their property tax impacts.