Despite what some officials call "surprise" pay raises for RCMP officers, City of Merritt chief administrative officer Matt Noble expects that municipalities will ultimately approve a new 20-year policing agreement.
The provincial government and the RCMP reached a new 20-year policing agreement for British Columbia last month. However, the individual municipalities that contract out police services to the RCMP, including Merritt, must also approve the deal.
Two days before the deal took effect on April 1, the RCMP released a statement listing wage increases of 1.75 per cent this year, 1.5 per cent next year, and two per cent in 2014. This year's raise is retroactive to Jan. 1.
Langley Mayor Peter Fassbender, who represented municipal interests while negotiating the 20-year deal, sent a letter on behalf of the Union of B.C. Municipalities to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews expressing "complete shock and surprise" about the raises.
Fassbender said the federal negotiators had not mentioned the raises during bargaining. Toews has since responded that the federal government warned both the province and municipalities that the pay hikes would come.
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts told the Surrey Now earlier this month, "There should have been a wholesome discussion.
"We got a memo."
"Some people are still up in arms at the heavy-handedness of it," Noble said.
However, he said he does not believe local governments, either individually or as part of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, will mount any substantial opposition.
"My opinion is there's a bunch of noise that very little will be done about."
The increases would have, at most, a minor effect on this year's budget, said Noble.
"Our budget should be our budget, plus or minus some very small adjustments."
Noble criticized the negotiations for the provincial deal since they did not include any input from municipalities on how to spend funds for RCMP operations in general. Nevertheless, the municipalities must pick up the costs for operations such as drug enforcement and VIP protection, which are not directly related to policing those communities, he said.
"Most of the decisions are still being made between the provincial and federal government and we're being told, basically, accept it or reject it and find an alternative source of policing."
One of the new clauses in the recent policing agreement allows municipalities to opt out of the RCMP contract with 25 months' notice in favour of a local force.
Still, creating a local police department would not necessarily reduce the city's costs due to stringent requirements for staff and equipment, said Noble.
The province will pay $5.7 million more to the federal government next year for the RCMP's services. Towns smaller than 15,000 will pay $320,000 more for police services next year.
A municipality of Merritt's size is responsible for 70 per cent of its policing costs, with the province paying the rest under the agreement.
Meanwhile, the City of Merritt and the Merritt RCMP are in the midst of annual contract negotiations to determine the local detachment's main priorities for the year.
Noble said city council will meet with police representatives this week. There, they will decide on the level of service, namely how many police officers will serve in the detachment, and what local issues they will focus on.
The city must approve a contract by the end of the month.
"It's fairly narrow, but it's something we do every year," said Noble on Monday of the fast-approaching deadline.
Asked if council members had already indicated to the police or city staff what some of its priorities are, Noble replied they had not.
Mayor Susan Roline suggested during a drop-in session with a local merchant on April 10 that she may pressure the local RCMP to increase nighttime patrols downtown to curb vandalism in that neighbourhood.
"We've had that focus on zero-tolerance for alcohol for so long.
"Some of it is not having the patrols at the right hour, and council can control that."
At present, the Merritt RCMP detachment has 15 police officers. Several RCMP members from Central Interior Traffic Services work out of Merritt as well, but are not involved in local law enforcement and do not report to Sgt. Norm Flemming, the acting Merritt detachment head.
The City of Merritt will pay about $2.1 million for police-related services this year. Of that figure, about $200,000 goes towards running the Merritt Community Policing Office.