Thefts prompt policing debate

Township of Spallumcheen debates need for additional RCMP presence

Growing up in what he calls “the bad part of Surrey,” Troy Sievert’s home was never broken into.

The Spallumcheen small business owner and hobby farm operator can’t say that about his new neighbourhood.

Twice, in two years, Sievert said his Spallumcheen property has been broken into and has had things like tools and computer equipment stolen, something that never happened to him in the Lower Mainland.

Which is why, at a public consultation on the township’s budget plans for 2012 Monday night, Sievert called for more policing.

“You’re insane if you don’t think we need more police officers,” said Sievert, who owns Appellation Designs, to Spallumcheen council, and to the 13 others who showed up for the hour-long meeting. “We live in such a huge area, and to say that we’re sufficient with three officers is insane.”

Coun. Christine Fraser opened the meeting by explaining residents could be facing, in a worst case scenario, a 12.42 per cent tax increase. That’s because Spallumcheen’s population now exceeds 5,000, meaning the township has to pay for policing.

Paying for police will be the biggest part of Spallumcheen’s budget as they are looking at an extra $280,000

Negotiations are ongoing between the township and the province as to how many police officers Spallumcheen should have. The province wants the township to pay for four officers and a clerk. Spallumcheen wants three officers and a clerk.

Several people disagreed with Sievert’s contention, including former mayor Will Hansma.

“Our crime stats haven’t gone up and the population is lower now than in other years, so there’s no reason for our police strength to increase to four officers based on the stats,” said Hansma.

Resident Richard Denengelsen questioned why the township wasn’t prepared to have the money for paid policing already budgeted, knowing that the census figures would likely show the township’s population increasing to beyond 5,000 residents.

“People can’t afford a 12 per cent increase,” said Denengelsen.

Chief financial officer Brian Freeman-Marsh said the township has been budgeting a three per cent tax increase every year since 2008 when the provincial economy took its downturn to help build up its reserves.

“We only have $130,000 in the reserves and we’re using $60,000 this year,” said Freeman-Marsh, who added that the budget is only in its first draft, and that he would estimate a seven-to-eight per cent tax hike as a “best case scenario.”

While the policing issue dominated the meeting, other residents also offered up suggestions for cutting back on capital works and the battle of removing land from the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Fraser was happy with the turnout.

“What we’re trying to do is whittle away and get down from a 12 per cent hike,” said Fraser. “If we are cutting, we want to hear from you, where do you want us to cut from? From roads? Parks and recreation?”