The topic that got the most discussion – by far – during last week’s three-day financial planning marathon at Campbell River City Hall were the issues currently plaguing the downtown core.
There were many lines in the proposed financial plan that dealt with various facets of the issue, whether they be safety and security improvements, beautification efforts, support for businesses, access to services or other aspects that could help curb the problems currently associated with the area.
In the end, however, it was determined the best plan to move forward would be to set aside a pool of money and strike a task force or committee that will decide how best to spend it.
The amount settled on was $225,000 as a one-time injection into the area from the city’s Gaming Reserve. The amount was determined by the available funding that had been “freed up” by cuts to other projects over the course of the budget discussions so that the money would not come from taxation.
The idea was put forward by Coun. Claire Moglove, who said that instead of council sifting through all of the proposed initiatives and efforts in the budget related to downtown, they would be better off putting together a group of stakeholders to assess the value of each planned effort and assign them a priority level to get the “best bang for the buck” for the city.
Coun. Colleen Evans liked the approach, saying, in part, “what we know today in terms of our information around intervention for downtown may change as we move forward in the next year, so to have a fund that allows us to be responsive and proactive as we find out new information gives council the greatest flexibility.”
What exactly the task force or committee will look like, who will be part of it and what their specific mandate will be is yet to be determined, but Mayor Andy Adams is confident that the decision to create a group and have money set aside for it to make use of is a huge step forward towards fixing downtown.
“The increasing issues downtown, not only for small businesses and property owners, but also the residents in Berwick and the visitors in the Comfort Inn and the Discovery Inn, are completely unacceptable,” Adams says. “We’ve been working for a long time with bylaw and the RCMP and it seems like whatever we try to do, it’s not making a tangible impact. The money we’ve put in place will enable us to get past meetings, bloody meetings, and move on to some tangible results.”
Whether it’s additional security and more RCMP patrols, or infrastructure improvements or the city’s facade improvements program – which now includes Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) initiatives, “in addition to working with the service providers to ensure that they’re providing for the needs of the vulnerable population,” Adams says, the injection of funding, the city hopes, will go a long way towards creating solutions.
And while the money is slated to be spent over the course of just one year, Adams admits that he doesn’t expect the problems will be gone by 2022.
“This isn’t going away anytime soon,”Adams says, “but by putting money into possible solutions and then taking a look at what’s working, where’s the best investment, that information can be brought into next year’s financial plan considerations.”
There is currently no timeline on the creation of the task force.