About $145 a year in extra police costs for average Osoyoos homeowner
By ROY WOOD
It looks like the extra cost of living in a town of more than 5,000 people will be close to $90 this year and $145 next year for an average Osoyoos homeowner.
Town council met Wednesday to finalize its budget, which will receive first, second and third readings at the May 1 council meeting and will likely be adopted May 15. Overall, the budget will see an increase in taxes in Osoyoos of about 3.9 per cent over 2016.
Complicating matters for Osoyoos council this spring has been an increase in policing costs. The 2016 census put the town’s population over 5,000 for the first time. As a result, the town is now responsible for 70 per cent of its policing costs, up from the 30 per cent charged to sub-5,000 municipalities.
In an interview Thursday, chief administrative officer Barry Romanko said that for an average home in Osoyoos, assessed at $353,000, policing costs for 2016 were $83.41. For this year, that amount will jump to $170.47. That is for just three-quarters of the year, since the new rate kicked in April 1. For 2018 it will be about $227.
Council decided to continue breaking out police costs in a separate line on town tax notices. “A taxpayer can visibly see what they paid for policing last year and what those costs are this year,” said Romanko.
The town continues to seek some relief from the province and has sent letters to the provincial justice ministry and to Attorney General Suzanne Anton. “We have not heard back,” said Romanko. “I suspect we won’t hear anything back until after the (May 9) election.”
The town hopes to get a break on the 70-per-cent share of costs and possibly on the implementation date. The budget estimates approved Wednesday are based on the “worst-case scenario,” which will see no breaks from the province.
Councillor Mike Campol said in an interview Thursday that the province has assured the town there will be no interruption of police service while negotiations continue.
The town has $223,000 in its RCMP contingency reserve fund. When news of the policing costs jump broke, that fund was touted as a way of easing the initial impact of the jump in policing costs.
However, the fund will remain in place and, in fact, will continue to receive a piece of general tax revenue as a hedge against unexpected police costs. Of particular concern is the possibility of a major crime in the area and a resulting expensive investigation, the cost of which would fall largely to the town.
“We decided to add a full one per cent of property taxes for police reserves,” said Campol. “It’s not so much based on paying for the increased share of services, but it’s more about creating a responsible reserve fund for extenuating circumstance.”
Romanko said that under the new cost arrangement, the town will receive an increased share of revenue from fines. That money will go into the reserve fund, as will any surplus the town may receive from cost savings if the detachment is less than fully staffed.
Early in the policing-costs drama in Osoyoos, there was a suggestion that the town might create its own municipal police force, rather than contracting with the RCMP. One local news outlet even published an editorial promoting the idea.
The notion is off the table, said Campol. “It would be an exorbitant amount of money to set it up. … It was something we had to look at, but it never really gained any traction,” he said.