BEAVERLODGE, ALTA. -- Beaverlodge council weighed in on a provincial police advisory board survey intended to give municipalities a voice on policing services during its regular meeting last week.

While mayor Gary Rycroft said the town is “pretty happy” with the current level of policing, he said he is concerned by costs being added to the town under the province's new funding model for RCMP.

“It's a lot of money we have to collect,” Rycroft said.

“It's kind of a Houdini method of raising taxes for the province of Alberta - `We're not going to raise taxes, we're going to get the towns to do it.”'

Under the new model, Beaverlodge is required to contribute $48,871 for RCMP services in 2020.

Before this year's change to the funding model, only municipalities with populations above 5,000 contributed funding to the RCMP.

“We're satisfied with our policing in town here - the problem we have is paying for it,” said Tina Letendre, acting chief administrative officer.

“It's a hard pill to swallow when you haven't paid for it before, and the amount it goes up every year is substantial.”

Letendre said policing costs to the town will increase by $24,000 to $73,358 in 2021, to $97,741 in 2022 and $146,000 in 2023.

“That's a huge increase each year,” she said.

Each increase is near $30,000, which typically requires a one per cent property rate increase, she said.

Rycroft said when municipalities are faced with new expenses, they have little option but to raise taxes.

Towns can't carry deficits and borrowed funds have to be repaid, he noted.

Letendre said council can share its concerns with finance minister Travis Toews, but there is little else the town can do.

She also noted because of COVID-19, the province has deferred payment of the 2020 costs of $48,781 until next year.

Following the funding change, the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association and Rural Municipalities of Alberta formed a police advisory board for municipalities to have a voice in policing.

The advisory board sent out surveys to municipalities across Alberta so the communities can give feedback on RCMP services.

One question on the survey asks councils to rank issues most significant to their towns, including drug offences, major property crime, traffic endorsement, family violence or prolific offenders.

However, Rycroft said council chose not to rank the issues.

“What's a priority this week may not be a priority next week,” he said.

“It depends on the activity in the neighbourhood.”

Despite the survey giving municipalities the opportunity to weigh in on priorities, Letendre said the town can't direct the Beaverlodge RCMP to the degree it can the bylaw officer.

The police advisory board can only make recommendations, not give orders, she said.

While Sexsmith mayor Kate Potter told the News last week police services in Sexsmith are insufficient, Rycroft said Beaverlodge is satisfied.

“There's never enough (policing) but looking at the overall situation we are pretty happy with it,” he said.

Rycroft said while many Beaverlodge residents may like to see more response to issues like property crime, there are challenges in the number of officers and travel distances.

The Beaverlodge RCMP cover an area including Demmitt, Hythe, Horse Lake First Nation, Beaverlodge, Elmworth, Wembley, Valhalla Centre and La Glace.

Rycroft said he often hears Beaverlodge residents express concern about response times.

Letendre also said Beaverlodge council is satisfied with the number of times the detachment commander visits - four times a year for a quarterly update.

In contrast, Potter told the News last week council sees the Grande Prairie Rural detachment commander only once per year and is dissatisfied.

Crime rates down in west county

Sgt. Ash Browne, Beaverlodge detachment commander, said the third quarter report shows decreases in Criminal Code offences this year.

This includes thefts under $5,000 (27, from 70 last year), break and enters (19, from 57) and mischief to property (41, from 50).

In total, property crimes are at 146 for 2020, compared to 246 in 2019 and 279 in 2018.

In 2020 there have been 67 crimes against persons, compared to 78 in 2019 and 83 in 2018, and 34 “other offences” (like disturbing the peace), from 63 in 2019 and 39 in 2018.

Browne said there are a number of factors that likely caused crime rates to drop this year.

These include the pandemic forcing people to work home or lose jobs, leaving fewer vacant homes for criminals to target.

As well, COVID-19 encouraged people to be more cautious about contact with each other, and at the beginning of the pandemic criminals were likely also hesitant about moving around property, he said.

Browne also said that during the pandemic the Crime Reduction Unit put more focus on “hotspots” of criminal activity for patrols, creating a crime deterrent.