Tempers flared. Emotions ran high.
Vernon council met for six-and-a-half hours Monday, one of the longest regular meetings in recent history, with half of the meeting taken up to discuss recommendations made to the city by the Activate Safety Task Force, who presented its findings to council July 9.
The task force looked at issues involving homelessness, poverty and the effects of criminal behaviour on the business community, and made 46 recommendations to council, each debated Monday. Some of the task force recommendations were passed as presented, some were tweaked by city staff, and some recommendations were defeated.
“Thank you to council for going through this, and thanks to all of the staff,” said Mayor Akbal Mund at the end of the deliberations. “I’m sure many staff were involved in these recommendations, and for getting back to use in, what, not even two weeks. More like eight days.”
There were eight main issues for council to consider: enforcement; drug use and prevention; improperly discarded needles; litter and urban decay; defecation in public areas; shopping carts; graffiti; and the relationship between social service providers and neighbouring businesses.
Council passed four task force recommendations in relation to the issue of stolen shopping carts, including requiring retailers to use theft protection; retailers must dispose of decommissioned carts at their own expense and recover abandoned carts when identified. Bylaw will enforce those through a fine for repeated non-compliance.
What drew considerable debate was a ban on commercial shopping carts on public property. The task force recommended such a move only in the business improvement areas. Coun. Scott Anderson who, along with Coun. Brian Quiring, was council’s representatives on the task force, successfully lobbied to have the rule go city-wide.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Anderson, who also wanted to have the city buy and provide 100 backpacks to the street-entrenched population, but withdrew his motion when told there are a number of programs that already provide that service.
“If you want to drag around three shopping carts full of junk and then leave them on somebody’s property, you’re now going to have to modify that or move to a jurisdiction where you can do that.”
Coun. Juliette Cunningham, long an advocate for the homeless, said she couldn’t sit through much more of the deliberation and became emotional as she voted against the city-wide shopping cart ban.
“When you have no home, you can’t put all your stuff in a backpack,” she said. “How would you like to have 24/7/365 packing everything you own in a backpack? You don’t understand the complexity of what these people face every day. I’m finding this a little disturbing. There are groups working on this, like the shopping cart task force.
“Here we are, all comfortable in our homes, making decisions that are going to impact people that have nothing. You can criticize me for getting emotional but I find this really offensive.”
Anderson also lobbied for the city to fund a needle refund program, saying it would make a significant difference in the community. Mund said he couldn’t support that and was joined in opposition by Cunningham and Coun. Catherine Lord.
“Both Kamloops and Penticton have privately funded programs,” said Mund. “I don’t know if the city wants to get into the business of starting up a needle collection program. Who’s going to collect the needles? How’s it going to be done? I can’t support that. That’s beyond our scope. Sorry.”
Quiring motioned to have the city investigate a private model for needle collection which was unanimously supported.
The topic of adding two new full-time equivalent bylaw officers also drew considerable discussion.
The move would cost the city approximately $150,000 and chief administrative officer Will Pearce pointed out that city is already facing a $1 million shortfall right now for the 2019 budget deliberations.
“We have a big challenge on our hands,” said Pearce. “We’ve committed to the RCMP six community-funded positions and the RCMP are going through the process of getting those positions finalized. Proceeding with new bylaw officers would not be a recommendation.”
Council voted to continue to support two of three current full-time equivalent bylaw officers and dedicate them to seasonal foot and bike patrols in problem areas in Vernon identified by bylaw and RCMP.
Council also voted unanimously to direct administration to relocate the bylaw compliance department and community safety coordinator to unoccupied office space at the city-owned parkade at a one-time cost of $55,000, and increased operating costs for bylaw compliance will be added to the 2019 budget.