As alternative programs grow, Salt Spring’s Local Community Commission (LCC) is taking what it calls a small first step in shifting how bylaw contraventions within its purview are resolved.
During a special meeting focused on the 2024 budget, LCC members voted to approve reducing their requisition for bylaw enforcement labour next year by $10,000 — an ongoing reduction, according to resolution, not a one-time spending change, justified by the seeming success of both RCMP community engagement efforts in Ganges and similar programs run at a community level.
“I think the best information we have from the RCMP is that specifically at Centennial Park, the number of incidents has dropped dramatically over a period of time,” said LCC member Brian Webster at the meeting Thursday, Feb. 1. “I’m hoping to be able to shift gradually away from an enforcement approach and toward fostering positive activity in that park.”
Webster said he envisioned a time where local expenditures on bylaw enforcement could be reduced by as much as half — “like it used to be,” he said — but that even a modest reduction now could be seen as a helpful first step in a cultural shift.
“And if the incidents are down dramatically, according to the police, then we shouldn’t have to spend more than we did before,” added Webster.
Salt Spring Electoral Area manager Dan Ovington cautioned of a potential risk of deficit spending if more enforcement is needed despite budgetary plans, noting staff are legislatively compelled to respond to complaints and enforce bylaws regardless.
But LCC members were buoyed by the increasingly positive news coming from RCMP, as well as from Salt Spring’s volunteer Ambassador Program, the green-vested community members that have been visible and approachable in Ganges since last summer, working to help solve small problems before they escalate.
“I’ve been careful about not doing the ‘Susie Sunshine’ act here,” said commissioner Gayle Baker. “But I’m going to tell you that there are other alternatives, using our resources in a way to stop the issues and problems [beforehand] rather than having to address them with enforcement.”
Baker said a large number of new volunteers were being trained to join the Ambassador Program in the coming weeks. And Ovington said the Salt Spring Island Saturday Market Society would be stepping up its education efforts regarding dogs not being allowed in the park, which can lead to conflict — particularly during the busy summer season.
“And bylaw [officers] are typically doing walkthroughs, checking to make sure they’re supported in those efforts,” Ovington said. “Then they’re going to those alternative areas where people have been displaced to.”
Commissioner and CRD director Gary Holman said he remained optimistic; while a current bylaw enforcement officer has been on medical leave “for some time,” he said, necessitating bringing staff from off-island to fill gaps, he agreed the RCMP’s reports of significantly fewer problems was a good sign — as was an expected completion of a long-languishing supportive housing project on Drake Road by the end of next year.
“And that’s not just the housing, it’s with the ongoing supports,” said Holman, noting that with the recent influx of charitable societies on Salt Spring bringing experience working with marginal populations, mental health and addiction issues, there could be multiple organizations vying for management of that facility.
“Now we’ve got Lookout [Society] on the island, we’ve got the Umbrella Society,” said Holman. “That supportive housing facility will provide another avenue for people to go, to get not just their housing but their broader needs met.”