The city’s protective services organizations got a boost during last week’s financial planning sessions as council decided to get Campbell River another RCMP officer, continue the pay increases for its auxiliary firefighters and increase the staffing levels at the No. 2 Firehall starting in 2020.
This is the second consecutive year that council has funded an additional RCMP officer in response to requests from the local detachment. Last year the detachment asked for two additional officers, but were only funded for one.
“Campbell River is faced with a growing challenge of public intoxication and alcohol-related crime and disorder occurring in its downtown core,” the 2019-2028 financial plan states. “These issues have a direct impact on public safety and livability, relationships with the business and development community, and economic growth in the downtown core and the community as a whole.”
Currently, the Campbell River detachment has an “authorized strength” of 44 members, but is only funded by the city for 42. The increase of one officer will fund 43 of the 44 authorized positions on the force.
Coun. Claire Moglove questioned funding the additional position, not because she doesn’t think it’s necessary, but because “we already have a significant surplus in the RCMP the last couple of years because we can’t even fill the 42,” she says. “I don’t feel its right to burden the taxpayers with another tax increase that represents, I think over one per cent, for a position that the chances of filling, based on history, are slim to none. It’s not that I think we don’t need it, I just don’t think we can fill the position,” she said suggesting the increase be put off for a year to 2020.
But Mayor Andy Adams says that inability to fill all the funded positions comes mainly from administrative leaves and short-term vacancies between when people leave and when they can get new people in.
“But what we’re talking about here is actual boots on the ground,” Adams continued. “By adding this RCMP officer in 2019 further to the one that we added in 2018 helps meet the criteria outlined by Inspector Preston and also frees us up for next year to be able to address the issues with the fire department.”
Next year, according to the budget, the city is scheduled to staff the No. 2 firehall seven days a week – up from its current five – which will cost $200,000 more than the city is paying right now for that hall’s operation. Putting off the additional RCMP officer would mean the increase next year would be too significant to bear, Adams says.
And increasing the staffing at the No. 2 Firehall is of utmost importance.
According to the report in the financial plan, this year saw the No. 2 station unable to respond to 20 per cent of the calls it was dispatched to, and of the calls they could respond to, its response time was over 10 minutes 33 per cent of the time.
“There were six structure fires where No 2 hall was not able to respond an engine at all (all six incidents occurred outside of the current staffed hours),” the report says. And, in general, “fire related incidents” have increased seven per cent between 2018 and the year before, there was a 19 per cent increase in the number of calls to the station “and a 24 per cent increase in the number of structure fires in the No. 2 Fire Station area,” according to the report.
The $200,000 put in the budget for 2020 will see the hall staffed for “dayshift” seven days a week, but there is also money in the 10-year plan to see that level increased to 24/7 staffing over time, with another $245,000 set aside in 2022 and $249,000 in 2024.
Finally, the community’s auxiliary firefighters are getting the second half of the raise they were promised last year.
“A key element to the retention of auxiliary firefighters is the recognition of the vital role they play in the delivery of fire services,” the report says, but Campbell River’s pay structure is lagging well behind that of comparable communities.
Before last year’s pay increase, auxiliary firefighters in Campbell River were paid $13.25/hr, well below the $20.50-$25.43 average of comparable communities, the financial plan says. Next year’s increase – the second of a two-year phased approach – will bring them closer in-line with that average at a cost of $45,000 to the city.