Osoyoos councillor Mike Campol wants some answers from the province — and he believes Osoyoos residents should be demanding answers as well.
“That wasn’t fun or fair,” the maverick councillor said after a draining meeting Monday afternoon where Council had to fudge responses to its Operational Services department as it awaits information about the increased costs new community policing responsibilities are expected to bring April 1.
The policing responsibilities came about with the release of 2016 Census information that shows the Town of Osoyoos has joined the plus-5,000 club. B.C. law requires communities of 5,000 or more people to provide for their own law enforcement.
Council, Mr. Campol said, is prepared to deal with its new responsibilities, but is hamstrung by provincial delays in getting required changeover information.
“We can argue as to whether the costing model makes sense but at the end of the day, we know what this split would be and we knew that we could go over 5,000 on the census,” he said.
“That’s not what I’m upset about. What I’m pissed about is that were put in this position with mere days to deal with a plan and it’s potential impacts. I’m baffled with the provincial government.”
Counc. Campol was referring to an information package it is awaiting from the provincial government that details the community’s policing options and expected costs — a package that (as of Friday morning) still hadn’t arrived despite the looming April 1 deadline.
“It’s the beginning of March and we’re still sitting here waiting on the province and these costs kick in April 1 — three weeks from now,” Mr. Campol said. “We’re expected to do our due diligence and decide what’s best for our community with something this complex and this expensive in three weeks?”
The Town paid $387,569 for policing in 2016; a simple calculation suggests policing costs could increase to more than $900,000 annually.
But costs could be significantly higher, Mr. Campol fears.
“It’s not a fixed cost here. We don’t understand where the Regional District plays into this, or the OIB, or even (the Town of) Oliver. Are we sharing our resources — what does all that look like?”
And what happens, he wondered, if a serious crime — such as a homicide — were committed in the community?
“Those investigations can cost a significant amount of money. Does that becomes a municipality’s responsibility,” he explained.
“There’s revenues available now too, I assume, through traffic and everything else,” he added. “(But) do we want to be that community that’s out trying to ticket everybody in sight to recover expenses?”
His frustration echoes that of Town CAO Barry Romanko, who spoke up about the delay in Late February.
“We have received nothing from the province and everything we do is predicated on getting the package of information from the province that says this is what we recommend you have for the detachment, here are the costs, here’s what the federal government will continue to pay and here’s what you have to pay,” Mr. Romanko said February 22.
“Everything depends on when we get this package. We don’t need an approved budget to sign the contract, but we certainly can’t work on the budget until we get this information.”
Counc. Campol likened the provincial response to that received by the Town last year as its secondary school was targeted for closing.
“This is the second time in two years that this community has been screwed like this,” he said. “From the school closing process — which was complete bullcrap — to the way this is being handled is insane.
“What I’m pissed about — and what I want people to be fired up about — is that this is another example of provincial government downloading on to the community a massive, massive expense that has options and giving us no time to deal with it,” he said.
He is calling on Liberal MLA Linda Larson to champion the Town’s concern.
“There’s an opportunity now for her to be proactive rather than reactive,” he said. “I’d hope that it being this close to an election, she’d want to get behind this community in this situation and fight for us.
“I want some noise to be made about this. I want pressure on the provincial government this close to the election. I think they’re hoping that the election comes and goes and we cry about this after the fact. I’d like to see some public outcry now — before the election.”
When posed with the local frustration, Ms. Larson said the matter is out of her hands.
“This is a Federal statute, not a provincial one that sets the population numbers and costs,” she said in an email. “Minister (Mike) Morris has promised to review the system with the Feds to try and move the costs up more slowly but that takes a lot of time.
“I’m sorry there is no way out at this time. I had initially refused to sign off on this but was told the Feds would not pay their share if I did not approve the Provincial Order in Council and the costs for Osoyoos would be much greater.”
She added Osoyoos Council “is getting exactly the same time and information as every other community in this Province has had as they transition over 5,000.”
Ms. Larson also suggested “Council has been preparing for this and has put money aside.”