“If we don’t do it this year, next year, it is going to be even worse.” That was Gibsons Councillor Stafford Lumley’s comment on starting a Town reserve for what could be $1 million in additional annual costs for municipal policing as early as 2023. Discussion on approaches to addressing those potential costs were part of Gibsons March 9 Committee of the Whole meeting.
The province shares policing costs with municipalities, and under that arrangement, jurisdictions with populations higher than 5,000 are responsible for 70 percent of these costs, with smaller communities paying about 30 percent. As of 2016, Gibsons’ residents were numbered at 4,605. It budgets about $420,000 a year to fund its portion of police services.
If the proposed 2021 census reveals that Gibsons has reached a population of 5,000 or more, the municipality’s share of annual policing costs is estimated to rise to the $1.1 to $1.4 million range. Funding such an expense change in a single year would require a 22 to 32 percent property tax rate increase, based on current assessment roll data.
In 2020, council had proposed starting a reserve to offset the impacts of the potential new expense. Early discussion of last year’s budget saw a suggestion that a two percent tax increase be applied and that the $65,000 in revenue generated go into a policing reserve. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of last year, the elected officials decided not to proceed with that tax increase, given the economic uncertainty faced by many in the community.
At the meeting, the committee recommended that a five percent tax increase be applied in 2021 to begin funding the reserve. Such an increase would cost the average homeowner an additional $53 and the owner of a commercial property about $231 more in property taxes than in 2020.
Should that level of increase be endorsed by council, there would need to be additional increases of 10 and 15 percent in the next two years to amass the dollars that may be needed in 2023 for policing. That would be on top of tax increases to fund other needs in the community.
“This increase can’t be lumped in with the costs of running the Town. It has nothing to do with the Town. This is a provincially mandated service,” said Lumley. While he favoured the early establishment of a future policing costs reserve, he wants it clearly communicated to the public that council does not have much choice in the matter.
Mayor Bill Beamish stated that he is speaking with the Province about how soon changes to policing costs must be introduced once Gibsons’ population reaches 5,000.
He also noted that the two percent 2021 general property tax increase proposed at an earlier meeting creates a $158,000 surplus. While the council has yet to discuss new operating cost proposals or the current year’s capital project program, Beamish suggested using some of that surplus for a 2021 policing contribution. That could reduce the level of the additional taxes needed to fund the reserve this year.
Recommendations from committee discussion on the 2021 budget will be forwarded to council for consideration. Gibsons is planning an online public engagement session on the proposed 2021 financial plan on March 23 at 7pm. Bylaws for the plan and this year’s property tax rates require adoption by mid-May.