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Town of Banff to get report to justify policing positions

“I still struggle with a vote that we had approving an ongoing annual quarter of a million dollar expense with no report to council,” said Coun. Chip Olver.
Banff RCMP
Banff RCMP

BANFF – Banff’s elected officials have gone back on an earlier decision to hire two new RCMP officers in order to get a comprehensive business case to justify an addition to the local police force.

At a meeting on Wednesday (Jan. 26), council voted 5-1 to remove about $640,000 in police funding over the next three years that had been included in the 2022-24 operating budget a week earlier amid ongoing concerns the RCMP were stretched to capacity.

Councillor Chip Olver convinced most of her council colleagues to ask administration to come back with a detailed written report with an analysis and business case no later than April 11, which is timed to allow for any amendments before the tax rate bylaw is set.

“I still struggle with a vote that we had approving an ongoing annual quarter of a million dollar expense with no report to council,” said Coun. Olver, who was one of three councillors to vote against the police funding a week earlier in the absence of a detailed analysis.

“The proposed timing of the report would allow the 2022-24 operating budget to be revisited and amended so that these positions could be advertised and filled in this budget cycle if that was council’s wish at that time.”

While there was no written report or business case presented to council last week, councillors Ted Christensen, Hugh Pettigrew, Barb Pelham and Kaylee Ram all voted in support based on previous service review discussions, police advisory group talks and community concerns.

Coun. Olver said she believes council had not followed existing process or done its due diligence by approving the two RCMP positions.

“I am trying to respect those councillors who feel we’re not following proper procedure without having a report, and those who want to see this go ahead,” she said.

Policing services in Banff are provided by 14 RCMP members under a municipal police service contract with the Town of Banff. By comparison, the Town of Canmore has 19 municipally funded police positions.

With leaves, transfers and absences, Banff’s 14 police positions are seldom fully filled, leading to the Town of Banff to typically budget for about 13 positions.

Adding two more positions would bring Banff to 16 approved full-time equivalent positions. In addition, the Banff townsite also has four RCMP positions funded by the province of Alberta, including three front-line investigators and one front-line supervisor.

Councillors Pelham and Pettigrew were willing to change their vote based on Coun. Olver’s arguments; however Coun. Ted Christensen stood his ground. Coun. Kaylee Ram was absent from Wednesday’s meeting.

A long-time member of the police advisory committee, Coun. Christensen said he believes the need for two additional RCMP officers has long been established.

“I am reluctant to step back at all; it seems to be more financial and political jockeying than keeping in mind the vision for boots on the ground that we need,” he said.

“I am a little surprised at the opposition to moving ahead with this on a straight-forward basis.”

Coun. Pelham’s primary concern during the previous Jan. 19 discussion and vote to fund additional police officers was that a report would take too long to have a timely response and support the RCMP.

She said she still believes that Banff residents would benefit from having more RCMP on staff, but added a report by April 11 allows council to be fully informed to make “productive decisions with taxpayer money in a timely manner.”

“If it indicates that our residents and visitors can benefit from the extra officers, we will still have time to hire in the same timeframe as the previous motion permitted. If the report has other recommendations, we can explore the options outlined to serve our community,” she said.

“In other words, we have nothing to lose by asking for this report, plus we re-establish the trust of our residents and provide stability in the process for our administration.”

Staff Sergeant Buxton-Carr, Banff RCMP’s detachment commander, said a report would include total policing costs, historical policing levels and costs, crime data and crime trends, as well as the challenges associated with policing not just residents, but the large tourist population as well.

He said some of the anecdotal information is also important, but a little harder to define.

“A lot of it is going to be anecdotal because crime against a person is a lot more involved and puts more demands on police than crime against property,” Staff Sgt. Buxton-Carr told council.

“How long does it take off us off the road, and with our current strength, how many officers are left on the road with our ones that are working on dealing with that.”