If Port Hardy reaches 5,000 population, the district would have to pay 70 percent of the cost base described in the policing agreements. (North Island Gazette file photo)

Funding police would be ‘most expensive single budget item we would have’ says Port Hardy councillor

'we're not panicking - I can't see our population numbers jumping up that high that quick'

If Port Hardy eventually does achieve a population of 5,000, what will funding RCMP services look like for the district?

According to Chief Financial Officer Lynda Sowerby, “Municipalities with populations from 5,000 to 14,999 pay 70 percent of the cost base described in the policing agreements. The federal government pays the remaining 30 percent.”

The District of Port Hardy’s last population statistic was 4,315 as of 2019.

RELATED: Population increase means Port Hardy may have to pay for its own police services

Port Hardy RCMP officers also police nearby areas such as Coal Harbour, old Quatsino, and even Port Alice. Sowerby confirmed the district would only pay for the policing costs “directly related to the district. The other areas would be paid by the federal government or local government as per the cost-sharing formula.”

As for how much Port Hardy residents currently pay for policing, Sowerby stated the district collects taxes on behalf of the province when the annual tax notice is issued. She included financial statements for the amounts collected over the last three years:

2018 – $181,686;

2019 – $186,602; and

2020 – $203,063.

“The province provides police services in the 85 municipalities of less than 5,000 population, and in the rural/unincorporated areas,” added Sowerby. “Both small municipalities and rural/unincorporated areas pay the police tax, which contributes to the costs of the provincial police services provided, i.e. a portion General Duty (GD) and General Investigative police Services (GIS) costs, but is not intended to cover the full cost of the service. In 2017, the police tax recovered 33 per cent of the Province’s estimated 70 per cent share of rural and small community GD and GIS costs.”

Port Hardy Mayor Dennis Dugas noted that while district staff is definitely going be looking into the issue from a potential budget perspective, “we’re not panicking — I can’t see our population numbers jumping up that high that quick, so it’s quite a ways away yet.”

Coun. Fred Robertson agreed with Dugas’ take on the district funding its own police services, stating that while it would be “very expensive for us — the most expensive single budget item we would have — we still have seven hundred or so more residents to go, which is a fairly significant amount, so we definitely have time to plan for it.”

Dugas confirmed the issue is something district staff has been aware of for a number of years now, while Robertson added the letter received at their June 23 meeting from Brenda Butterworth-Carr, assistant deputy minister and director of police services policing and security branch, was council’s first time discussing it since he was first elected back in 2015.

With other rural communities in the north Island seeing declining population stats, Dugas attributed Port Hardy’s growth to the district being a nice place to live where you can purchase affordable property. “I think that has a big part to play in it, and also people wanting to get away from the city — It’s good we’re still an affordable place to live and that there’s steady employment here.”

Robertson stated he thinks Port Hardy’s been quietly moving along on a slow and steady growth plan that’s been laid out for a number of years now, and that “clearly tourism has something to do with it [population increase]. I came here in 1989 and there wasn’t anywhere near as much tourism back then as there is now.”

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