North Cowichan is one of eight municipalities in southern Vancouver Island that sent a joint letter to Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth raising concerns about further downloading of costs from the province and Ottawa to local governments.
North Cowichan, along with Colwood, Ladysmith, Langford, North Saanich, Sidney, Sooke, and View Royal, have taken exception to the senior governments handing over the costs, which are in the millions of dollars, of RCMP E-Comm 9-1-1 to them for the first time.
E-Comm 9-1-1 is a multi-municipality agency that provides emergency communications operations for British Columbia.
The eight municipalities were informed of the pending download of 100 per cent of the costs for RCMP E-Comm 9-1-1 dispatch calls to their municipal budgets just over a year ago.
Currently, these costs are covered by senior governments, with 30 per cent coming from Ottawa and 70 per cent from the province.
The downloading of the costs, on which the municipalities say they were never consulted, is set to take effect April 1, 2022, well into the fiscal budget year for municipalities that begins Jan. 1.
In North Cowichan, the projected increase to costs of the three-year phase in would amount to an approximately two per cent tax increase over that time for the municipality’s tax payers.
In the letter to Farnworth, the municipalities say that with so many policing cost increases to local governments in recent years, including the additional costs related to the new RCMP contract, the local governments trust the minister can understand why another burden such as the one proposed by downloading the RCMP E-Comm 9-1-1 dispatch costs is untenable for them.
“Minister Farnworth, the reality is that this download constitutes a major financial burden for our communities, even with the proposed three-year phase-in,” the letter says.
“In the context of other financial pressures we are facing, this will place many of our jurisdictions in a position of potentially having to forego additional policing resources in our communities. This comes at a time when the public pressures for us to increase those resources continue to grow due to a variety of issues, including escalating street disorder brought on by the opioid crisis.”
The local governments also say they are disappointed that the south Island dispatch region is being unfairly singled out with the cost downloads, while other dispatch regions in the province will continue to have their costs for the service covered by senior levels of government.
The municipalities are asking Farnworth to delay the first phase of the downloading of the costs of the service to them for one year; that the phase-in of the download be extended from three years to a longer period of time to allow them time to more gradually absorb the additional costs; and that the issue be forwarded to the Local Government Contract Management Committee for further discussion.
“Minister Farnworth, we acknowledge these are challenging times, and we are all truly appreciative of the pressures under which you have been operating in recent months; pressures brought on by forest fires and then by flooding,” the letter said.
“We certainly don’t wish to add to the pressure you are facing, but this file is critical to us, to our budget-setting processes, and ultimately to our taxpayers.”