As some business owners along the highway corridor feared, the City of Duncan has begun moves that would see the corridor safety office, located at 490 Trans Canada Hwy., shut down.
At its meeting on March 21, Duncan council decided to ask the Municipality of North Cowichan, as the lease holder of the office, to terminate the office’s lease.
A staff report by CAO Peter de Verteuil said that at a meeting between Duncan and North Cowichan officials on March 7 to review the effectiveness of the current initiatives of the Safer Community Plan, all agreed the office is under utilized and funding allocated towards it could be more impactful if reallocated to other initiatives occurring in the corridor.
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He said North Cowichan will also be bringing forward a report seeking direction from its council on terminating the lease at an upcoming meeting.
Business owners along the Trans Canada Highway corridor, including Will Arnold, owner of Experience Cycling, said last week that they had heard that the corridor safety office was likely soon to be terminated and raised concerns about it.
Both the City of Duncan and the Municipality of North Cowichan responded at the time that they were not looking to cut back on any services along the corridor, but are considering how they can deliver them more cost efficiently.
“The group [from the two municipalities] also discussed that the Cowichan Community Policing office is now open on Beverly Street, which provides a storefront for the public looking for assistance and resources,” de Verteuil said.
“The Cowichan Community Policing is working to establish Citizens on Patrol and Business Watch programs. The City of Duncan will encourage Cowichan Community Policing to connect with the business owners in the highway corridor area regarding the Business Watch program.”
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Duncan, North Cowichan, Cowichan Tribes and other stakeholders partnered in 2019 on the Safer Community Plan, which is an initiative to address crime and public disorder along the Trans-Canada Highway corridor.
The Safer Community Plan called for the establishment of a corridor safety office, which costs $47,000 annually to run which is spilt between the two municipalities, and for the coordination of municipal bylaw enforcement and RCMP resources in that area.
At the council meeting, Paige MacWilliam, Duncan’s director of corporate services, said the office was never envisioned to be a storefront accessible to the public, but as a meeting space for staff and an equipment storage facility.
She said that among the options the funding from the office could used for is to add additional resources to the sharps collection program and/or the safety ambassador program, and increasing security patrols in the highway corridor.
“There are other initiatives that will definitely impact the highway corridor that could also receive more funding if council wishes,” MacWilliam said.
De Verteuil’s report said the group from the two municipalities also decided to recommend to both councils that another request for proposals for the Safety Ambassadors program, which has been run by Blackbird Security since 2019, be put out.
He said the initial one-year $74,200-contract with Blackbird Security, which is shared equally by Duncan and North Cowichan, was renewed in August 2020 and is now due for another renewal.
But de Verteuil said staff have reported that the initial effectiveness of Blackbird’s patrols along the highway corridor has decreased over time due to many factors, including disruptive individuals becoming more aware of Blackbird’s limited enforcement authority.
Asked at the council meeting if Blackbird intends to participate in the RFP process, MacWilliam said she believes the company would stand a good chance of being successful if it did.
“We want to go through the RFP process to see what other options are available to us as well,” she said.