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Richmond RCMP unionization final bill still unknown amid budget talks

The proposed operating budget increase for 2022 is 3.86 per cent, which includes money for capital projects.

The City of Richmond still doesn’t know how much the unionization of the RCMP will cost Richmond taxpayers.

Despite this, the majority of council voted Monday to go ahead with a 3.86 per cent budget increase for 2022, of which one per cent will go into capital reserves.

The budget includes using $4.6 million from a surplus this year to offset the higher RCMP contract.

The city has been putting aside money since talks on unionization started in 2017, but the negotiated contract, announced this past summer, ended up higher than expected, explained the general manager of community safety, Cecilia Achiam.

(The expected surplus this year largely stems from the pandemic with fewer community services being offered and delays in hiring fire fighters and RCMP. The final amount of the surplus will be made public in January.)

The union contract is expected to cost the city about $7 million more in 2022, and the backpay could be up to about $10 million.

Given the unknown final bill for the RCMP retroactive pay, Coun. Carol Day suggested at Monday's finance committee meeting, putting only .75 per cent into capital reserves and the other .25 per cent into a reserve for the anticipated retroactive payment going to Richmond RCMP officers as far back as 2017.

Day’s motion to reduce the capital budget was defeated, with Mayor Malcolm Brodie saying it was “short sighted” given all the buildings and facilities in Richmond.  

“We go through this every year talking about the benefit of the one per cent,” Brodie said.

Coun. Alexa Loo pointed out that some years the one per cent was taken out of the budget or was reduced, which has resulted in the need to borrow money for projects. (Council voted earlier in the meeting to borrow money to build the Steveston Community Centre.)

“The difference is huge, it compounds… and we’re only talking about $10 a family to start saving up for things we as a community want, like our community centre,” she said.

Arguing in support of moving .25 per cent into a reserve for RCMP backpay, Coun. Chak Au said he was concerned when the final amount needed is known, city staff will tell council they don’t have the funds to pay for it.

He added the problem was “of our own making” when city council decided to hire more RCMP officers even though they knew these negotiations were underway.

Coun. Andy Hobbs, who is a former Vancouver police officer, however, said the fault lies with the federal government for underpaying RCMP officers for so many years.

“That is something created by the federal government… it would be nice if the federal government came through with some form of grant money to offset this for all communities, not just Richmond,” Hobbs added.

Brodie challenged those who supported moving .25 per cent into an RCMP reserve to raise the 3.86 budget increase by this amount instead, but no one made this motion.

This would have increased the 2022 budget overall by 4.11 per cent.

At the finance committee meeting, Couns. Michael Wolfe, Au and Day voted against the budget.

It's expected to be on the agenda for next week’s council meeting.

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