North Cowichan is among eight Vancouver Island municipalities asking the province for an extension on a massive cost increase being sent their way from a change in how 911 services are paid for.
RCMP dispatch costs used to be covered by Federal and Provincial governments. The old split was 30-percent federally paid and 70-percent provincial, but the eight municipalities were told it was being 100-percent funded by municipalities, phased in over three years starting this April.
“We were not consulted. We were not warned. We were just told,” says North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring.
In an attempt to stave off those added costs they have banded together and sent a letter to the province asking for an extra year to prepare for the ‘download’ of costs.
It was signed by eight mayors, those from North Cowichan, Ladysmith, Colwood, Langford, North Saanich, Sidney, Sooke, and View Royal.
In another twist, Siebring says they did some research to find that there were still a number of jurisdictions in the province that will have those costs covered by the 30-70 split from the higher levels of government. The letter asks the minister why the South Island Dispatch region is “unfairly singled out” and says that they would like at the least for the download to apply to all jurisdictions equally.
“We’re asking the minister, ‘Why us?’” says Siebring. “We’re saying to the minister, ‘Delay this for a year so that we have a little more time to properly study this and maybe institute it province-wide. Extend the period of the phase-in, three years isn’t enough.’”
The letter goes into detail on the scale of the added cost, putting it into perspective in terms of tax implications. Siebring states that its impact will be felt by North Cowichan’s bottom line.
“This is a substantial cost increase for us,” says Siebring. “We generally have tried to keep our global tax increase in North Cowichan at or under 3-percent. This download, by itself, is a 2-percent boost to our budget.”
All other municipalities saw a similarly projected increase to their taxes, headlined by Langford which would see a 3.23% increase in their taxes over the three-year span.
Siebring says that this impending cost crunch comes as municipalities are facing pressures to increase police presence and services to deal with the opioid crisis and other issues.
“We’re going to be left in a position where we’re choosing between paying this bill – which is really no choice, we have to – or increasing police services,” says Siebring. “In terms of the Protective Services component of our budget, this is huge. We just can’t afford to do it this much this quickly.”