Sooke taxpayers could face a $300,000 annual bill for police dispatching costs within the next three years – and it’s a decision not sitting well with Mayor Maja Tait.
“It’s challenging for me to accept this as a cost,” said Tait, adding the new expense would mean a four-per-cent increase on local tax bills in 2024.
The reason for the change? The South Vancouver Island police call-taking and dispatch services have been consolidated in one location, with services provided through the South Island Police Dispatch Centre operated by E-Comm.
A spokesperson for the Solicitor General Ministry said the integration of policing services is an “opportunity to provide better service, enhance efficiencies and improve public safety and information sharing among police units.”
Tait questioned that reasoning, pointing out because of the looming bill, hiring another RCMP officer this year and other municipal services could be impacted.
The province hasn’t clarified total costs to Sooke or the other municipalities affected – Ladysmith, North Cowichan, Colwood, View Royal Langford and North Saanich – but has provided a two-year transition plan. (The cost of the program is based on population).
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 municipal contribution jumps to 65 per cent.
By 2024, the municipality is expected to cover 100 per cent of E-Comm’s dispatch services.
According to the Union of B.C. Municipalities, the province has no intention of seeking a similar dispatch service arrangement elsewhere in B.C., other than the Lower Mainland where it already exists.
“It seems to me the province has made a decision, and I’m not comfortable with that decision. I disagree with it,” Tait said.
In 2018, the RCMP advised the province the dispatch service should become the financial responsibility of local governments.
Tait said local officials are trying to understand why the province decided to do so and will seek more information.
In an email response to the UBCM, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth acknowledged local government concerns. He ensured that “future matters have a significant impact to municipalities, financial or otherwise, and will be brought forward through the appropriate channels.”
Tait believes the dispatching service is a federal and provincial responsibility that is being downloaded onto municipalities.
“It’s one thing to know we need you to fund for this, but when it’s just sprung on you, it’s a little disturbing,” she said.
“It’s just a challenge.”