A decision five years ago to begin tucking away money each year in anticipation of an eventual settlement of a wage contract for RCMP officers means local taxpayers aren’t facing a bill now of nearly $1 million.
The $937,860 the city accumulated to the end of 2021 is sufficient to pay for retroactive wage increases from 2017 to 2021, city finance director Lori Greenlaw told council May 9.
Wage negotiations between the federal government and the National Police Federation began for the years 2017 onward following a Supreme Court of Canada decision opening the door to full-on collective bargaining talks.
“Having been advised since 2017 to anticipate a 2.5 per cent per year pay increase, we have accrued $527,520 to the end of 2020 and in 2021 we accrued an additional $410,340,” indicated Greenlaw in a report to council outlining the results of the decision to allocate a sum of money each year.
While the matter of retroactive wage increases might be settled, local taxpayers now face increases onward thanks to the collective agreement that was signed between the federal government and the National Police Federation for 2022 and onward.
Greenlaw pegged that cost at $181,933 for this year for the 25 RCMP positions assigned to the city, a sum that represents a tax increase of 1.17 per cent which works out to an average $20 increase for a residential taxpayer. Residential taxes went up 5.52 per cent in total this year.
But she also told council the chances of having to actually pay that amount are slim simply because not all of the 25 positions are filled at any one time.
Local governments in B.C. pay for RCMP services on a sliding scale — the larger the population the higher the percentage so that a city the size of Terrace pays for 70 per cent of an officer’s costs.
At $4.9 million in 2021, the RCMP cost to the city for that year was the largest item of the city’s $23.3 million general operating municipal budget.
For the average residential taxpayer, the 2021 cost worked out to $380.
Retroactive pay will amount to thousands of dollars for RCMP members depending upon their rank and length of service.
The new collective agreement as of 2022 will see a considerable annual pay increase to as much as $106,576 or $20,000 more than what a senior serving constable earned in 2016.
A top-ranked corporal will now earn $116,703 a year, up from $94,292 in 2016 and a sergeant’s pay could reach $127,204 compared to $102,775 in 2016.
Council members expressed their appreciation to city staffers for allocating monies in the city’s budgets so to account for the impact of retroactive pay.
Councillor Sean Bujtas and Mayor Carol Leclerc recounted conversations with elected officials from other local municipalities during the May 4-5 North Central Local Government Association in Fort St. John.
“They didn’t put the money aside, knowing this was coming,” said Leclerc, adding that other local governments expected the federal government to come up with the money.
“Some municipalities are not even close to putting aside the money to cover this — $3 million short,” Bujtas added.
Without the city’s retroactive next egg, city chief administrative officer Kris Boland said local taxpayers might have been presented with a six per cent one-time tax increase hit to cover the required amount.