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Residents skeptical about alternative policing proposal for Town of Shelburne

People attending the policing services public information and input session at the Shelburne Community Centre on Feb. 20, hosted by the Town of Shelburne and Town of Bridgewater.
People attending the policing services public information and input session at the Shelburne Community Centre on Feb. 20, hosted by the Town of Shelburne and Town of Bridgewater. - Kathy Johnson

SHELBURNE, N.S. – There didn’t seem to be much enthusiasm in the room for the alternative policing proposal being considered by the Town of Shelburne that would see existing RCMP services replaced with a dedicated police service provided by the Bridgewater Police Service.

About 50 people gathered at the Shelburne Community Centre on Feb. 20 for a policing services public information and input session hosted by the Town of Shelburne and Town of Bridgewater. The Town of Shelburne invited the Town of Bridgewater and Bridgewater Police to submit a proposal for an alternative policing contract for the town as a cost-saving measure.

As it stands now, it costs the Town of Shelburne upwards of $735,000 annually for policing services by the RCMP through a federal contract; an average of $422 per resident, which “is significantly more than people in other parts of the province are paying,” said Shelburne CAO Dylan Heide.

Because it is a federal policing contract rather than a provincial policing service agreement is the main reason why the town’s policing costs are higher that those in neighbouring municipalities.

David Levy, deputy warden for the Municipality of Shelburne, was very vocal in saying the proposal being considered by the Town of Shelburne that would see existing RCMP services replaced with a dedicated police service provided by the Bridgewater Police Service would be a bad move for his residents. KATHY JOHNSON PHOTO
David Levy, deputy warden for the Municipality of Shelburne, was very vocal in saying the proposal being considered by the Town of Shelburne that would see existing RCMP services replaced with a dedicated police service provided by the Bridgewater Police Service would be a bad move for his residents. KATHY JOHNSON PHOTO

“What we have here is the town has a 20-year federal contract and the other two units (Municipality of Shelburne and Town of Lockeport) have a provincial contract,” said David Levy, deputy warden for the Municipality of Shelburne. “This is not a no-cost consequence. We have outstanding police services by the RCMP. We can keep those services and save $120,000 merely by having all our services under a provincial contract. We give up a huge amount for zero reason when there’s much greater savings to be gained by unifying our existing police force under the RCMP, under a provincial agreement which the government has agreed to do.”

Levy said he has spoken with provincial Justice Minister Mark Furey, who said “he would be happy to move the town from a federal contract to a provincial contract.”

If that’s the case, the town would sure like some communication, said Heide. “At the end of day if we had a detachment that serves three units and there is an opportunity to equalize the costs so all residents pay the same, if that were on the table, which it is not, we do not pay anywhere near an equal amount, but if it was an option I’m pretty sure the town council would be first to say it’s a good deal.”

In an interview following the meeting, Shelburne Mayor Karen Mattatall said she “finds it very interesting” that the deputy warden for Shelburne Municipality “has an assurance from the minister when we’ve heard nothing. We have been trying to get the minister to look at an option that would protect the service but costs us less” but have heard nothing. “We’ve been almost five years trying to get their attention,” she said.

READ ALSO: LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Justice Minister addresses policing conversations

“We’re not the only place in the province that is looking at options and for exactly the same reasons,” said Mattatall. “If the federal government and province want to keep the RCMP as the provincial police force they’re going to have to recognize that municipal units can sustain the costs and they’re going to have to find a way to make it sustainable. It’s not about wanting Bridgewater or not wanting the RCMP, it’s about service and cost.”

As was suggested at the meeting, the Shelburne County East RCMP Advisory Board has sent a letter to the three units requesting a joint meeting of the councils. “This is such an important issue for all the residents of eastern Shelburne County that we need to resolve this among ourselves in a co-operative way,” said Levy, who serves on the advisory board. “This is a decision of such importance it should be addressed by all three councils.”

Mayor Mattatall said what people need to understand is that, as it is now, “we’re subsidizing the policing in the municipality when in fact we have less residents. If we keep the same level of service and there is an agreement to cost share fairly it will mean the municipality will pay more and I don’t know if they will agree to that.”

Shelburne town council will be making a decision on the Bridgewater policing proposal before the end of March, said Mayor Mattatall, adding she was a little bit disappointed there weren’t more town residents at the meeting, noting a video from the meeting is available online.

Shelburne town CAO Dylan Heide makes a point during the policing services public information and input session at the Shelburne Community Centre on Feb. 20. In the background is acting chief for Bridgewater Police Services, Scott Feener. KATHY JOHNSON
Shelburne town CAO Dylan Heide makes a point during the policing services public information and input session at the Shelburne Community Centre on Feb. 20. In the background is acting chief for Bridgewater Police Services, Scott Feener. KATHY JOHNSON

THE PROPOSAL

Under the Bridgewater policing proposal, the annual cost to the town would be in the range of $642,000. However, the town would have to invest $62,000 a year over five years for initial start-up capital costs. Under the proposal, Bridgewater Police would provide 24/7 coverage, with 18-hours-a-day active patrol in the Town of Shelburne, and six hours on call with a 15-minute response; 4.5 constable positions would be created to provide staffing resources; access to K-9 Unit as required, IT service, 24/7 dispatch, senior management, GIS, scene of crime officer, records management and other support services.

The Town of Shelburne would be responsible for providing capital items, including a building/facility that would contain two sleeping facilities, washroom and kitchenette, one working desk, one secure interview room, a card scan unit, an intoximeter and exhibit lockers. The Town of Shelburne would also be responsible for providing policing equipment, including two patrol vehicles, one hand-held radar, a roadside screening device, two mobile work stations, two car radios, two portable radios, two cell phones, four side arms and two Tasers.

Many people at the meeting were skeptical that cost-savings would actually be realized, that the capital costs were under-estimated, and they expressed concern that the same level of policing services would be provided. “The RCMP can provide service that Bridgewater can’t,” said resident Roger Burrill. “We are an international port in Shelburne as well as recreational port of call authorized under the Customs Act. Bridgewater is not authorized to enforce or administer either the Customs Act or the Immigration Act as the RCMP are allowed to,” he said. He also questioned the ability of a municipal police force to enforce the Canadian Shipping Act and the Small Craft Safety Regulations.

The Town of Shelburne would be required to give two years’ notice to the RCMP should it decide to change police contracts. If a new contract is signed with the Town of Bridgewater, the change in service could take effect as early as the spring of 2020.

It was previously reported that the Bridgewater policing proposal would save the Town an estimated $100,000 a year. Currently, it costs the Town of Shelburne almost $737,000 for policing services.

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