By GARY HOLMAN
SSI CRD DIRCTOR
I’m writing in response to recent articles and letters in the Driftwood regarding the proposed new CRD Community Safety Service. I can confirm the initial requisition for this new service will be $30,000 (about 40 cents per household per month), about $10,000 of which covers counter-petition costs. A referendum would have taken the entire requisition.
In consultation with the stakeholder group that formed in response to safety concerns in Ganges, I’m proposing a preliminary budget for further public discussion in the new year if the initiative proceeds, including: $9,000 in grants to on-island organizations to better support and connect those in need to existing services; $7,000 for crime prevention measures (e.g., Neighbourhood Watch and security cameras and lighting in public locations), organized under the auspices of a contribution agreement with the RCMP; and $4,000 for minute-taking and CRD financial accounting/reporting. Over time, as priorities are refined, and success demonstrated, the requisition can be increased.
For those concerned about the validity of the counter-petition process, it is a well-established, provincially legislated means of securing voter assent, used by local governments throughout B.C. On Salt Spring, counter petitions were used to establish and increase funding for our successful public transit system. Counter petitions do not “end run” voters and some have failed here, including those for the arts and fire district. In fact, counter petitions give voters at least 30 days to register their opposition (CRD has been accepting petitions since Nov. 4 and will do so until Dec. 9), compared to just one day for a much more costly referendum.
It’s been suggested that a poll be conducted before putting the issue to voters. My “polling” involved attending a number of community meetings sponsored by the United Church, the Chamber of Commerce, and other citizens, as well as many conversations with workers, volunteers, residents and visitors in private and public venues about repeated rounds of vandalism, and their experiences of threats and harassment. I cannot as an elected official ignore these concerns, or dismiss them as “peripheral.”
At this time, I’m not proposing the establishment of a formal CRD commission, but to regularly convene public meetings of an inter-agency advisory group. Any grants or expenditures made through this new service will have the same staff and political oversight as other CRD services. The involvement of any resident or local group will be welcome in these public advisory meetings to take part in discussions about priorities and inter-agency collaboration. The information sharing and collaboration facilitated by this new CRD service will enable existing agencies and organizations to more effectively fulfill their mandate. Improved collaboration will also result in more effective advocacy to senior governments, an approach that recently helped encourage BC Housing’s about face on funding for a year-round shelter.
If voters approve the proposed safety service, the CRD budget increase over 2018-2020 will average about 3.7 per cent per year. Considering an inflation rate of about 2.5 per cent and local population growth of one per cent, these increases are certainly not out of control. For an initial investment of 40 cents per household per month, a CRD Community Safety Service will improve safety and supports for all our residents, and pay dividends in terms of funding partnerships with senior governments, just as we’ve accomplished with public transit, pathways and affordable housing.