Balancing act

Resident concerned about the cost of police and firefighting in Vernon

Simply put, we who live in Vernon are in for some financial difficulties.

Let me explain. We have gone from a small but very well balanced city in terms of area and structure to one that finds it difficult to support its expenditures. Basically, annexation,  senior government downloads and generous collective agreements have inflicted most of the damage.

In order to run this city the administration counts heavily on residential property taxes. These constitute about 50 per cent of our revenue. The other 50 per cent comes about through the sale of services and senior government transfers. The only part of this revenue stream that is adjustable by the administration lies in property taxes. Cities and municipalities are not permitted to run deficits, hence budgets need to be trimmed or taxes raised. Usually a bit of both happens

Twenty years ago, Vernon was a small to medium-sized city with a growing infrastructure problem, even then  Vernon was more than 100 years old. Little Vernon had its own Vernon-sized fire department, and police detachment, as well as other civic agencies.  After annexation, and years of  senior government downloads, things are different today. The city’s size has more than doubled and the RCMP detachment is now responsible for the whole of the North Okanagan. Together with bylaw and parking enforcement and fire protection,  our protective services consumed $16,417,000, or 59 per cent of our residential tax base.

The fire department consists of  40 full-time people and a number of paid on-call firefighters. They work primarily out of one hall (hall one) and provide 24/7/365 days a year service. The volunteers, 13 around the Landing (hall two) and five at Predator Ridge, are paid for training and call-out.

Three years ago, we had two halls with 27 volunteers. Volunteers constitute so little of the budget that I couldn’t find out how much they cost. The career firefighters, on the other, hand were a different story. Twenty  made  more than $100,000 per year. Most of the others earned in the mid-$90,000 range, while two were in the low $80,000 range. The average for firefighters in Canada was $83,793.00 while paramedics made $67,169 and bylaw officers made $ 56,039.

Policing is more difficult to analyze. Information concerning the North Okanagan detachment is not readily available.

Best guesses are it numbers from 40 to 55 members in total, including a superintendent and an inspector as well as a number of sergeants, and corporals. The RCMP contract for 2013 cost the city $6,717,000. The city also paid administrative support costs of $2,605,000.

The only hard information I could find concerning RCMP costs came from Paul Palangos’ book Dispersing the Fog, when he stated that it cost about $156,000 to keep a uniformed RCMP patrol officer. The cost for a municipal constable was around $105,000. This figure is more than five years old.

Bylaw officers are both cheap and effective deterrents to crime in our urban area. The whole agency gives a big bang for the buck and should probably be expanded in scope and numbers.

Solutions lie in winding services back. We can’t afford more than a core firefighting role so let’s go back to what worked in the past, career officers for the city core and volunteers for the rural areas surrounding Vernon. It seems to work for Coldstream, Lumby and others.

In terms of policing; we need more auxiliaries, trained, armed and living in Vernon long-term. These officers would, over the long run, be very effective in community policing

The  $750,000 overrun on our running track and 3.7 per cent increase in civic taxes, as well as impending B.C. Hydro increases, are only wake-up calls.

Bill Dunsmore

 

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