Port Alberni city council voted on Thursday to start budgeting for a bylaw services department—something the city has never had before.
The bylaw services department will include two full-time bylaw officers, a full-time manager and a part-time administrative clerk.
While council agreed that a second bylaw officer was needed, they were in disagreement on the need for a manager.
Councillor Chris Alemany said that a manager would be helpful in the “new model” that the city is going to employ.
“We’re going to develop a plan of a proactive bylaw officer, and that’s going to change everything that’s been done in the past,” he said.
Councillor Denis Sauvé pointed out that the lack of bylaw enforcement is putting additional strain on the RCMP and city managers—especially the director of development services, Scott Smith. Smith admitted that he has not been able to look at some of the items on his status report because of the bylaw-related work he has been doing. A bylaw manager would take over some of these duties, such as drafting new bylaws and fielding complaints from the public.
“I believe there’s more than enough work for a full-time position,” said Smith.
City CAO Tim Pley said he didn’t envision the manager’s role as being office bound. The bylaw manager would do high-end work, act as a liaison with the RCMP, lead the nuisance property working group, work with the courts and process administrative work. They would also give support and supervision to bylaw officers.
“Currently, we suck at that,” Pley admitted. “If we put another bylaw officer on without leadership, we’re just going to suck more.”
Kevin Wright, the president of the Uptown Merchant’s Association, said that he had spoken to the bylaw officer about his workload. “He had about 80 calls a week,” said Wright. “He was able to process 15 of them.”
In Parksville, he added, they supplement the cost of their three bylaw officers heavily through fines. Fines would also make building owners more likely to fall in line with the bylaws.
“It’s the fines that make them conscious of the issue,” he said.
Economic development manager Pat Deakin also spoke in favour of the bylaw services department. “We don’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” he said.
New residents and tourists travelling through the uptown area, he explained, are left with a poor impression of the town and a concern about investing in the area.
“Economic development does have a role to play,” he added. “But it won’t be felt until people feel they are really safe and comfortable in the community.”
He pointed out that many other communities have invested heavily in bylaw services or a two-tiered policing system.
“I think we could maximize the impact of our efforts like facade improvement when the community feels safe and comfortable,” he said. “Additional bylaw resources definitely have a role to play.”
Councillor Sharie Minions admitted she was torn on the issue. Although she voted for an additional bylaw officer during last year’s budget deliberations, she thought the city was being “reactive” with the issue, rather than proactive.
She pointed out that most of the city’s problems stem from mental health, addictions and homelessness. “The people living in those places are still going to be in our community,” she said. “At the end of the day, we’re not addressing the problem in our community.”
She agreed that a bylaw department was needed, but that a “fundamental shift” has to be made by the city.
“If we look at just bylaw and just RCMP, we’re not going to address this problem,” she said. “We might make it worse.”
Council voted to include an additional bylaw officer, a manager and a part-time administrative clerk in the budget under general revenue, at a total cost of $168,021. Only Coun. Ron Paulson voted against this motion, explaining that he didn’t think the “full package” was needed.
Council also voted to budget $60,000 for a new electric vehicle under the carbon trust fund. Although an electric vehicle will not support the computers, lighting and radio needed for the bylaw officer’s vehicle, council agreed to transfer a current city vehicle to the bylaw department, and replace the old vehicle with an electric one. Pley confirmed that the vehicle, and its equipment, was eligible for the carbon fund.
The manager position is expected to be filled by April, and the new officer by May.
Bylaw enforcement was just one issue on the table at the budget meeting. Other capital projects were also discussed, although no decisions were made.
The city must approve its budget by May 15.