Town cuts one peace officer position

Joe McWilliams

Lakeside Leader

‘Something had to give’ was the quote from the Town of Slave Lake’s CAO in a story in last week’s Leader about the possible cut of one of the town’s peace officer positions. That was perhaps CAO Jeff Simpson’s way of saying ‘yes, we did it,’ without actually saying it.

The message from both Simpson and Mayor Frankie Ward was basically that nothing is decided until the budget is approved. It turns out that wasn’t exactly the case, as The Leader has since learned from Sarah Rempel, the former peace officer who is now out of a job. She says she was told on Jan. 31 she was terminated as of that day.

So the matter had very much been decided as of the first week in February, when The Leader talked to the mayor and the CAO. For whatever reason, the town authorities thought it wasn’t prudent to come right out and say it.

Nor was the cut specifically mentioned in the budget report that was presented to council at its Feb. 13 meeting. It appears as an $85,000 reduction in Enforcement Services expenditure, on Page 69 of the operating budget.

How Rempel’s termination was handled is one thing. Official evasiveness on the subject is another, and probably both of them are beside the main point – that being what will happen with town bylaw enforcement, with only one officer on the job.

Coverage will certainly be less. Animal complaints, unsightly premises, traffic – all will inevitably get less attention, or at least less prompt attention.

But, as Simpson says, “something’s gotta give.” He was referring to overall steep increase in the cost of protective services. He told The Leader the town thinks it can get by with a single peace officer, with the help of the RCMP.

Others have different opinions on that, including one Slave Laker who predicts wait times for a response from the town peace officer could now be a week.

Operational reviews and service level adjustments are just part of doing business, Simpson says, with the town as well as other organizations. In this case, a number of factors were considered, including the efficiency of the department, the service being delivered vs. what was expected, fiscal restraints and pressures and the overall budget impact.

The town does this sort of thing routinely, he says, “and since my tenure has both added and eliminated positions in a variety of departments.”

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