North Cowichan council decided to terminate the lease of the corridor safety office, located at 490 Trans Canada Hwy., at its meeting on Sept. 21.
Council also directed staff to look for another smaller location for the office within the municipality’s jurisdiction in the areas around Cowichan Commons and the Friendship Trail where social issues around crime, drug use and homelessness have recently skyrocketed.
The City of Duncan, which had run the office in partnership with North Cowichan, pulled out of the office in August after CAO Peter de Verteuil said in a staff report that it had been determined by stakeholders that it is under utilized and funding allocated towards it could be more impactful if reallocated to other initiatives occurring in the troubled highway corridor.
The city and North Cowichan had originally agreed to jointly pay for the CSO’s lease, but North Cowichan has been covering the $3,800 monthly lease on its own since August.
While many businesses and property owners in the area are still facing significant social issues, a lot of the issues with crime and drug use along the corridor appear to have migrated further north when Island Health’s Overdose Prevention Site moved from Trunk Road in downtown Duncan to York Road last November, and BC Housing’s affordable housing complex on Paddle Road opened last spring.
The CSO was to be the base for North Cowichan bylaw officers, City of Duncan streets and parks patrollers, security ambassadors, Cowichan Tribes bylaw officers, and the RCMP to meet in order to have a visible presence in the corridor area.
The goal was to have a presence of security resources centred in the core area under duress.
But due to the last few years of COVID-19 protocols, the space has not been utilized as planned.
The RCMP are limited in using the current space due to security issues, and the City of Duncan no longer uses the office except when meetings are required with North Cowichan, RCMP or other stakeholders.
A staff report prepared by Kim Ferris, North Cowichan’s manager of bylaw and business licensing services, said that while staff firmly believes that the CSO could work as it was initially intended, it is believed the funds could be better allocated to lease a smaller office for use by North Cowichan bylaw staff with an intermittent RCMP presence.
“This would maintain a heightened visual presence on the highway corridor and in the newly affected area of Cowichan Commons,” Ferris said.
But Ferris pointed out that the ability to have a centralized physical location has been vital to North Cowichan’s success in the corridor.
“The lack of an office and a physical presence by local bylaw officers could have a significant visual and perceived security impact on the businesses and residents in the corridor,” she said.
“The lack of a physical presence will further perceptions within the community that North Cowichan and its council don’t care and are doing nothing to help the situation. The Cowichan Commons has and will continue to take more of the officer’s time, and both North Cowichan and the City of Duncan would be better served operating solely in their respective areas.”
Ferris also pointed out that two of North Cowichan’s bylaw compliance officers are temporary positions that are being financed through the provincial COVID-19 funding, which will expire early in 2023.
“Therefore, if the municipality does not increase the bylaw services staffing budget in 2023, patrolling in the corridor and other problem areas will be significantly reduced, as will bylaw services’ ability to respond to other less urgent requests throughout the municipality,” she said.
“The two temporary positions will expire in April, 2023. A request will be made during the upcoming budget process to consider transitioning these two temporary positions into permanent positions.”