'Tremendous burden:' Discontent City costing taxpayers over $50K per month

By Dominic Abassi
October 1, 2018 - 6:28pm

Nanaimo RCMP officers watch on as they investigate a July stabbing inside the camp.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

NANAIMO — Even though eviction day is looming, the bill for downtown Nanaimo's illegal tent city continues to climb.

The most recent information provided by the City showed taxpayers shelled out more than $130,000 for costs related to Discontent City, not including what are expected to be substantial legal fees. The City continues to withhold legal expense information, citing solicitor-client privilege.

The expense report covered from May 17, when the camp was created, until the end of August, putting the cost at more than $50,000 per month.

The majority of the costs are indirect, with $88,000 attributed to staff time spent dealing with the camp.

Also excluded from the City's report are policing costs.

But Nanaimo RCMP spokesman Const. Gary O'Brien said there isn't necessarily a cost associated with the camp, because local Mounties are paid by the City to perform police work. Whether that work is dealing with crime in the north end or responding to tent city, the cost to the municipality is the same.

What the camp is impacting, O'Brien said, is their ability to react to other calls for service in the city.

He said their members responded to 356 calls for service directly in tent city up until mid-September. Each call requires a minimum of two officers to respond, due to the "volatile" nature of the encampment, and can take upwards of an hour each time.

"It's a tremendous burden on our resources...We're dealing with a range of criminal activity from shoplifting to bylaws to warrant checks. That's a real drain," O'Brien said.

He said while it's true homeless people were previously scattered throughout a variety of smaller encampments around the city, the congregation of more than 300 people provided unique and cumbersome challenges.

Nanaimo Council has not been quick to offer extra resources to local Mounties in recent years, in fact cutting overall funding for the budget on more than one occasion.

In 2017, Council agreed to fund three new officers, despite a request for five. Former Supt. Cameron Miller cited a 13 per cent increase in calls for service year-over-year.

Earlier this year, councillors cut the amount of money placed into the RCMP budget in order to lower the overall tax increase slightly. In December 2016, Council approved the creation of a special infrastructure reserve fund, which was originally proposed to help pay down debt for the ill-fated event centre concept.

The fund, a brainchild of now fired chief financial officer Victor Mema, lowered the RCMP budget by about $700,000 annually. At the time, Mema said the move would not impact service levels because the city was over-funding that budget for years.

O'Brien said should the local force feel the need for more resources to deal with things like a tent city, a request for more funding would be brought forward to Council during future budget deliberations.

Discontent City was established by local activists, with support from Lower Mainland activists, as a form of protest to "hold the City accountable" for perceived failures in dedicating resources to the local homelessness issue.

A BC Supreme Court Judge laboured over a decision for more than two months before ruling on Sept. 21 that the illegal campers had 21 days to leave the City-owned property. The province and City are now working to find solutions and accomodations for the more than 300 residents by the Oct. 12 deadline.

Mayor Bill McKay confirmed the City has offered a piece of land to the province to be used for temporary housing. No other details were released and more are expected to be announced in the coming days.

Discontent City cost breakdown:

  • Staff time: $88,862
  • Litter pick up (staff wages, tipping fees etc.): $15,979
  • Repairs to damaged City property: $3,915
  • Portable toilets: $9,543
  • Garbage bin: $1,654
  • Security: $4,344
  • Water connection: $5,685

 

[email protected]

On Twitter: @domabassi

Judge questions AG's push to seal documents in legal battle over Nanaimo privacy breaches