Sooke Mayor Maja Tait was shocked to find out that E-Comm, the southern Island’s centre for 911-dispatch calls, would begin sending invoices to her municipality instead of the province starting in 2022.
The additional cost comes after the province sent a letter in mid-December, explaining that Sooke and seven other RCMP-serviced municipalities within southern Vancouver Island are expected to cover the costs to fund all police call-taking and dispatch services.
The province hasn’t clarified any total costs to Tait but has provided a two-year transition plan.
In 2022, the province will contribute 70 per cent of the total cost, while municipalities will be responsible for the remaining 30 per cent. In 2023, the province’s share drops to 35 per cent and the municipality to 65 per cent.
By 2024, the municipality is expected to cover 100 per cent of E-Comm’s dispatch services.
“I was floored when I found out that this is what they intended to do,” said Tait, past president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities.
“When are they going to provide transparency on the financial impact? The percentages don’t mean anything. If it’s $20,000, I can deal with that, but if it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars, then what? I’m just really concerned.”
In the letter, the province pointed out that telecommunication is a municipal responsibility under section 3.6 of the Municipal Police Unit Agreements, without any cost to the province or Canada. They add that Lower Mainland RCMP-policed municipalities have similar contracts with E-Comm as well.
“I really think that this is a stretch,” said Sooke’s chief administrative officer Norm McInnis during Monday’s council meeting. “That section has always been about administrative help. It has never been about dispatch […] This could be a significant cost to the District of Sooke.”
Sooke isn’t the only municipality expected to carry the load.
Colwood, View Royal, Langford, North Saanich, Ladysmith and North Cowichan are expected to pick up the cost in 2022.
“I’m incredibly frustrated,” said Colwood Mayor Rob Martin. “This is not something that we’re supportive of at all because it not only came as a surprise, but we weren’t included in any consultations. To this day, we don’t know the ramifications from a financial standpoint.”
Martin added that a large unexpected bill could throw a wrench in their plans, as they’re currently forming Colwood’s five-year financial plan. He said $20,000 could be reasonable, but if it’s $200,000, then the story changes.
For Tait, that could mean holding off on hiring an additional police officer in a region that is already understaffed. Sooke needs 22 officers to have 24-hour coverage, while they currently only have 17 police officers on the force.
Sooke council voted to write a letter in response to the province, asking for further details about the potential cost. Meanwhile, Martin said he wouldn’t present it at council until he gets some solid numbers on his desk.
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