September 28th, 2021

Nothing compares to you

By Collin Gallant on January 27, 2018.

Medicine Hat police officers block off Southridge Drive during a disturbance in this July 2017 file photo. A study comparing police operations and costs in several Alberta mid-sized cities will not be released by the cities involved, citing a difficulty in comparing local forces with RCMP contracts.--NEWS FILE PHOTO

A report into policing budgets and operations done by group of Alberta cities won’t be completed or released because the findings and data were too hard to collate and compare, local administrators have told the News.

The report is part of an Alberta Municipal Benchmarking program, created by 10 towns and cities to analyze and improve local government service delivery.

But that process has been bogged down since it was launched in 2013, as partners struggled to find accurate ways to compare programs that operate differently in different locations, or have different goals and challenges.

Specific to policing, Medicine Hat is just one of two locations in the study group that operates a municipal force, while most every other Alberta mid-size city contracts the RCMP to enforce laws locally.

The entire benchmarking program was discussed this week at council when a renewal for grants that pay for the program came due, though some confusion arose about how many of 10 scheduled areas of study had been completed.

Studies of solid waste, fire department coverage, water and sewage service were brought to council in the past two years.

RELATED: More to sewage costs than figures show

Administrators now say the police report won’t be completed as it is too difficult to make valid comparisons between local police forces in Medicine Hat and Lethbridge, and RCMP detachments operating in Red Deer and Airdrie.

Senior Medicine Hat police officials were not available for comment on Friday.

It’s not the first time program results have become hard to interpret due to local realities.

When a report into fire services was released last spring, it specifically noted that staffing comparisons to Lethbridge were skewed. Administrators there include ambulance workers in its fire workforce since it has a contract with the province to provide such work.

Similarly, a study of garbage collection in the cities was riddled with footnotes about the difference in operational models across the province.

Local administrators say the program is valuable even when comparisons are difficult to make, as reviews also look at internal operations that can then be better tracked in future years.

As for policing, most mid-sized cities in Alberta contract the RCMP to handle police contracts, including study partners Red Deer and Airdie (population 61,600).

Not involved in any part of the benchmarking program were Grande Prairie, St. Albert and Fort McMurray, which all also contract the RCMP.

Red Deer pays about $25 million per year for RCMP staffing, plus another $10 million for municipal peace officers.

Lethbridge’s total police budget will reach $33.6 million in 2018.

According to the current Medicine Hat city budget, total police expenses were expected to drop by $700,000 this year, to $24.4 million, compared to 2016, then rise by $900,000 in 2018.

The overall difference over the three years is a 1 per cent cost increase due to inflation offset by vacant positions and savings in vehicle fleet.

Roads report soon

Local administrators say that a report into roads, which was released by study partner Lethbridge on Monday, would be released here likely in March. At that time, a look at snow and ice clearing would be done, and the somewhat related studies could be made public in tandem.

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