West Hants council will have some tough decisions to make this September after learning the local RCMP detachment will be down at least six members this fall.
On Aug. 14, during council's regular monthly meeting, Windsor District RCMP Staff Sgt. Dan Austin, “H” Division Planning and Client Services Staff Sgt. Jim Sponagle, and a representative from the Department of Justice were present to discuss the challenges the loss of members will mean for the municipality.
“There's a proposal in place to move the bodies over (to East Hants) and I have little wiggle room to say no,” Austin told council. “But to lose six members out of the detachment — seven out of the detachment — is going to impact the policing.”
The position of the seventh member could be saved if council paid extra to keep the officer in the district.
The Windsor District RCMP currently has 23 members that are paid for by West Hants, East Hants, Windsor and Hantsport.
“Once this seven go, we'll be down to 16. That will be challenging for me, as the unit commander, to provide adequate service with 16 members dealing with the fact that the calls for West Hants are increasing, the calls for service are increasing and the expectation of service is also there,” said Austin.
“I know that policing is an expensive proposition. I've been doing this job for 26 years and I know it's a very costly part of a budget,” he said, requesting council consider saving one member from going.
Sponagle provided council with the facts and figures, noting that the East Hants members will have their own detachment. This split received approval from the provincial justice department. As such, the financial contribution the Municipality of East Hants makes to the Windsor District will cease.
“We expected that may start as early as Oct. 1 but that is a little bit of a floating number,” said Sponagle, noting they need to get the technology in place to make the move successful.
Currently, Sponagle said, all of West Hants and a large portion of East Hants — all the way to the Beaverbank Road and Highway 354 — is covered by the local detachment, as is Windsor and Hantsport.
The current funding breakdown sees West Hants providing 10.85 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions, East Hants contributing 6.65, Windsor supporting eight, and Hantsport paying for 2.5. The provincial government, under the additional officer program, also provides three FTEs.
Once the changeover is complete, there will only be 16.35 FTE members responsible for patrolling Windsor, West Hants and Hantsport.
Sponagle requested council fund the 0.65 required to have 17 officers on staff.
“The seventh one will be leaving if we are unable to secure that additional .65 funding,” Sponagle said.
To fund the officer for about six months, until the next fiscal budget, would cost the municipality $6,845 a month — about $41,000.
Councillor Shirley Pineo asked how much the average cost is per officer on an annual basis.
“Everything included is $134,600,” Sponagle answered.
He noted in his report to council that while 29 per cent of the current officers funded through the provincial police service agreement will be heading to East Hants, they will be taking with them just 21 per cent of the work.
“Some of the advantages is we will have shorter response times. Everything will be contained within the Municipality (of West Hants). But, we will need the people to cover the hours of service to keep an adequate level of service in the municipality,” said Sponagle.
“You have the advantage of being on a 100 series highway,” he noted. “It's busy 24 hours a day. It doesn't close down at midnight or anything. That continues all night. There are a lot of criminals that move through all hours of the day and night so we have to maintain hours of service.”
Warden Richard Dauphinee said the financial request was a difficult one to consider, given the financial challenges people are facing.
“We just went through our budget meetings, which was in my years, probably the hardest we've done. We've lost the Fundy Gypsum company; (that's) huge, it compares to Bowater on the South Shore, and New Page and nobody threw a penny here from the government; no $50 million came our way,” Dauphinee said.
He noted residents throughout the region have experienced job loss, cutbacks and the effects of reduced staff levels.
“We have a lot of people on fixed incomes, being unemployed. It's hard economic times and as it was, we had to raise our tax rates,” said Dauphinee.
“We would love to give the RCMP everything they ask for, and we've tried to do that over the years, but we came up against a wall this year and we can't budgeta deficit.”
Dauphinee said council will review the figures at their next committee of the whole meeting, scheduled for Sept. 4.
He said $6,845 a month is not 'small change' and it will be extremely difficult to fund, if that's the will of council.
“This is the first year that I can remember in a long time that we couldn't give our fire departments a raise,” he noted.
Prior to the meeting ending, Dauphinee asked the Department of Justice representative to bring council's concerns back to the minister to see if the department could help fund the position until the end of the fiscal year.
Regardless of whether they have a staff compliment of 16 or 17 officers, Sponagle said council and residents should brace for changes.
“There will have to be some changes in the service, there's no question, in the short term,” he said.
“For example... your community policing officer now will have to go back on regular rotating shifts to provide enough people to provide the hours of coverage and the level of service.”
Sponagle plans on returning to council after the October elections to introduce a business case so the municipality could start planning to fund additional members. He also intends to introduce a plan to use more public service employees.