Woodstock Police Force service would come at a cost for taxpayers in outlying wards

by | Apr 19, 2024

Town will host public meetings to see if residents will accept tax hike to replace RCMP with the municipal force

Will taxpayers agree to a tax hike to replace the RCMP with the Woodstock Police Force? 

That’s the question Woodstock Council needs to answer after Public Safety Minister Kris Austin gave the town permission to extend its municipal policing service to all wards. 

In an update at the Tuesday, April 16, council meeting, Mayor Trina Jones confirmed the minister, in a March 28 letter, approved the town’s plan to extend services to all corners of the newly expanded municipality. 

The mayor explained that the minister based his decision on Woodstock’s managerial review and detailed policing services assessment it submitted last year at the department’s request. 

She said the minister’s letter expresses confidence that the WPF can take over the new territory. 

The Woodstock Police Department’s comprehensive plan outlined the staffing, services, and costs associated with expanding its coverage from Ward 4, the former town of Woodstock, to Wards 1, 2, 3, and 5. 

Jones explained the Department of Public Safety requested a similar plan from all communities with municipal forces following municipal reform. 

She said no New Brunswick police force faced such a significant expansion as the WPF, whose coverage area would grow from 15 sq. km and 5,500 people to 500 sq. km and a population of more than 12,000. 

The Woodstock policing plan, created under the guidance of Chief Gary Forward, outlines a model providing 24-7 service and regular patrols in each of Woodstock’s four wars. It offers a level of service surpassing national policing standards and encompasses the latest technology and methods. 

When submitting the plan, Woodstock officials stressed the expanded plan would only be affordable with financial support from the province. The expanded force would double staffing from 22 to 44 members and increase the town budget from an estimated $3.3 million to $7.7 million. 

“I had expressed financial feasibility concerns to Minister Austin after the policing services assessment was submitted and that we would at minimum need transitionary funds and likely subsidization in order to take over the full jurisdiction,” the mayor said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Jones said Minister Austin also recognized the Woodstock Police Force model is “vastly different” from the RCMP model, which currently polices the town’s outlying communities. 

The mayor said if the town extends its services to the entire community, it wants to provide a level of service equal to that it currently provides residents of the former town. 

“As we have shared previously, we are not interested in swapping out a like-for-like service and we recognize that it means the costs of policing would be higher for the outside wards,” she said. 

Jones said the town contacted the department regarding property tax limitations and the potential for a third year of transition funds and is awaiting a response. 

She said the town is not interested in significantly rolling back its proposed model, although it will study opportunities to reduce costs without reducing services. 

Jones said she believes the town can provide policing services for a modest tax increase of under the five-cent per $100 cap per year. 

The mayor said she and Chief Forward plan to host public forums in each affected ward, similar to those held in Woodstock before the town submitted its original plan to the province. 

She said the decision to expand the police remains with the town, which will only make it with significant input from the taxpayers. 

“Once we complete our thorough review and we have some additional questions answered by Minister Austin’s department, and we determine the tax increase implications for all wards, we will do public consultation to gauge the interest of our community members,” she said. 

Following the meeting, the mayor said the council must consider policing costs in conjunction with the entire town budget. She said policing costs can’t steal funding from other vital services. 

Jones said she is unaware of any provincial policing model study but believes Woodstock, should it expand, would provide an excellent template for rural policing. 

While Minister Austin approved Woodstock’s expansion plan, it rejected neighbouring Carleton North and Hartland’s proposal to create a new municipal force to replace the RCMP. 

FOREST FIRE INDEX – click image for current status

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