UPDATED: Pay hikes raise concerns over North Van RCMP contracts
District of North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton is adding his voice to the growing chorus of B.C. mayors who say they were blindsided by RCMP pay raises in the new municipal policing agreement between the province and the federal government, signed last month.
Speaking to The Outlook Monday, Mayor Walton said he only learned of the surprise pay hikes last Thursday and has yet to consult with staff about the best course of action for the district.
Details about the pay increases — specifically how much money and over how long — have not been made public, but Mayor Walton is just the latest among Metro politicians including Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie and Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender to raise concerns about the contract hikes.
Mayor Fassbender sent a letter on behalf of the Union of B.C. Municipalities to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews Friday – a day after the pay increases were revealed – expressing "our complete shock and surprise" and warning the incident will create "significant backlash" from councils and taxpayers.
Toews has said the municipalities were advised months ago that raises on the order of 1.5 per cent were possible this year but the province and municipalities only learned of the pay package via the RCMP, rather than a formal notice from Ottawa.
All RCMP-patrolled B.C. municipalities are expected to have signed the agreements by Ottawa's end-of-April deadline to secure the Mounties in community detachments for the next 20 years. But so far, neither the city nor the district of North Van have done so.
"We were given the indication that we needed to sign the agreement by the end of April but I don't think there's much chance of us doing that, quite frankly," Walton said in a phone interview. "I don't sign an agreement and I don't think any of us do, until we've got most of our questions answered."
Walton said that the district has a "significant number of questions and concerns and obviously this adds one more to the list."
"We're not in a rush to sign it quite frankly at all," he continued. "We're not entirely pleased with what we've seen so far and there's a lot of unanswered questions that we need some comfort with."
In a phone interview with The Outlook, City of North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto said he wasn't pleased with the lack of consultation from Ottawa with municipalities prior to the new policing agreement. Without the proper information, he said, budgeting is nearly impossible and the city will now need to find extra money to pay for the raises.
"We knew we were going to need money for the RCMP coming down the line and we set aside about $700,000 but it's not going to be enough. That's because the $700,000 was based on best guesses," said Mussatto.
"We have to balance our book, we can't run a deficit. So we have to say we're not going to do something because we have to pay for this. It might mean a one-per-cent tax increase to cover the salary increase."
City council, added Mussatto, will be discussing the issue immediately and has asked the city's director of finance Isabel Gordon to circulate the agreement to all councillors.
B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond said she was assured by Ottawa that administrative savings totaling $195 million will partly flow to cities and could entirely offset the pay raises and possibly even lower their costs, but she would seek further details.
"I am deeply concerned about any potential impacts on our municipalities and that this information came as a surprise," she said.
Several municipalities including Surrey, Kelowna and the Township of Langley have already ratified the RCMP agreement.
In the Lower Mainland, RCMP-policed municipalities will meet in Surrey on April 20 to discuss the contract and the pay raises.
Cities that sign the RCMP deal can still opt out at any time with two years' notice, and a review of the contract is promised every five years.
—with files from Jeff Nagel
—with files from Sean Kolenko