Islanders who attended a Capital Regional District information session last Tuesday on a proposed safety service appeared somewhat neutral on the idea, with lots of questions tabled on how funds would be used and if they could in fact be effective in increasing the sense of security downtown.
Salt Spring Director Gary Holman and senior island staff, along with the regional district’s CEO Bob Lapham, outlined the ways they believe such a service would help prevent crime and forge a better connection with RCMP.
The CRD has made steps toward addressing village security concerns, such as providing grants-in-aid for security cameras and increasing the budget for bylaw enforcement, although that service is mainly applicable in island parks. Holman said he proposed the safety service as a further step toward meeting a community need. The establishing bylaw allows funding for some crime prevention, outreach and social support initiatives.
The cost to taxpayers for the service is expected to start at $25,000 to $30,000. The first year’s requisition would have to cover the cost of the counter-petition process, around $15,000, so the 2020 budget would be further reduced.
Salt Spring Chamber of Commerce chair Ian Clement explained the situation that led to a series of community stakeholder meetings earlier this year. It included a spate of vandalism to downtown businesses and organizations, including the chamber and CRD offices. There was also an almost daily gathering of 30-50 people in areas like the United Church Meadow and the Peace Park with drinking, fights and unleashed dogs. A resident who lives next to the meadow conducted a wide survey of local businesses and found many people reported feeling unsafe crossing the meadow to do banking, walking in Mouat Park and being in town at night.
Some people who spoke up seemed supportive of the intention but questioned whether the service could address underlying problems such as mental health, addictions and homelessness, the first two of which are provincial responsibilities.
“I don’t want to sell this as it can solve everything. It clearly won’t,” Holman said. “But it is a way local government can help.”
He also noted the CRD is working to improve affordable housing options on the island. It’s long-stalled affordable housing project on Drake Road has finally located a water source and will be moving forward soon.
Some speakers, such as Maxine Leichter, said if such a service were to be established it should have some sort of measurement of success, even if that meant just doing another community survey.
Although the small requisition proposed would not be sufficient to cover hiring an extra RCMP member on top of the quota provided by provincial contract, the service has been billed as way to create a more effective communication with RCMP. It would establish a stakeholder forum that RCMP would regularly attend, and Lapham said it could help CRD bylaw enforcement officers to file charges more effectively with the Crown.
The establishment bylaw received third reading by the CRD Board in September, when the counter-petition process as community approval method was also approved. That has yet to be approved by the province, but the CRD is expecting to run the 30-day process starting in early November.
A Community Alliance meeting devoted to discussing the proposal more fully is set for this Monday, Oct. 28 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Lions Hall.