Increased victim aid sought

Victoria abandoning victims assistance program, say local politicians

The victims assistance program is there for people during tragic circumstances, but local politicians claim Victoria has abandoned the service.

Regional District of North Okanagan directors agreed Wednesday to increase the funding available for the program, largely because Ministry of Justice grants have not kept pace with growing costs.

“By approving this, this lets the ministry off of the hook,” said director Chris Pieper.

“It’s another source of downloading. They should be coming forward with more funds,” added director Eugene Foisy.

At the same time that provincial funds haven’t climbed, the ministry has required increased service levels, including coverage in Falkland although it is outside of RDNO.

RDNO will demand a meeting with Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster to discuss the situation.

“We need to get Mr. Foster in here so we can say, ‘We can’t be helping other regional districts when we are suffering,’” said director Mike Macnabb.

Caseload volume and complexity has also placed pressure on the budget.

The full $120,000 requisition,  plus $3,348 from reserves, was required for 2012 program funding.

Staff had recommended that the service bylaw be amended from the current cap of $120,000 to $200,000 to cover expenses.

“It gives enough capacity to fund the program over a number of years,” said Ron Baker, community protective services manager.

“I don’t want to give the impression that we’re going to spend it all. We just don’t want to keep coming back every couple of years (for approval) to increase it.”

However, many board members were concerned about the recommendation.

“It seems like a big jump from $120,000 to $200,000. Where there’s money, there’s a use for it,” said director Kevin Acton.

Director Juliette Cunningham insisted that $200,000 would undermine any lobbying to get more funds from Victoria.

“It will be too late to go back to the government and express our dismay,” she said.

In the end, a majority of the board agreed to hike the funding cap, but to $140,000.

Another challenge for the program is fewer volunteers wanting to get involved. One reason may be the time commitment.

“What we’re expecting from them is a lot –  training, being in the office and being on-call,” said Anita Eilander, program manager.

Volunteers are currently being sought. Application packages can be picked up at any of the North Okanagan RCMP detachments. Please contact Anita or Stacy at 250-260-7171 for more information.