City urges Hydro to reconsider graffiti cutbacks

The city is urging BC Hydro to reconsider a decision to claw back money for graffiti removal.

Since October, 2014 BC Hydro has provided the City of Campbell River with a $3,000 annual payment to remove graffiti from Hydro distribution equipment in the community.

City Clerk Peter Wipper said the city was recently informed that Hydro will be cutting down that payment to $1,500.

“Last month staff contacted BC Hydro because the city had not yet received its graffiti removal funding for 2016 and was told that the city’s payment would most likely be reduced,” Wipper said.

“Staff were surprised that BC Hydro had to be reminded of its agreement and even more surprised when BC Hydro stated that it would be reducing its payment by half.”

Wipper said that so far this year there have already been 92 cases of graffiti on either city or Hydro-owned property and of that total, 49 per cent involved BC Hydro poles and boxes.

He added that the current cost to wrap one Hydro box with anti-graffiti coating ranges from $1,000 to $3,000.

“This leaves the question of whether BC Hydro’s $1,500 offer is reasonable considering that there are approximately 3,000 hydro poles and 713 Hydro boxes located in Campbell River,” Wipper said.

Ted Olynyk, spokesperson for BC Hydro, said Hydro is reviewing everything the utility does in order to find savings for its customers, and graffiti removal funding is part of that.

“We have been trying to cut back, sharpen our pencils,” Olynyk said.

“At the end of the day, everything we do impacts rates so we’re trying to lessen the impact on ratepayers.”

City council, however, wasn’t pleased to learn about the reduction in funding and at its Monday night meeting, directed city staff to approach Hydro and request that it reconsider reducing the $3,000.

Coun. Ron Kerr recognized that the city has a “good relationship with Hydro” and said he hoped city staff could get Hydro to change its mind.

“Recently Willow Point was hit with a rash of vandalism and tagging and it takes a whole lot of money to clean up that kind of mess,” Kerr said.

“Hopefully staff will be able to convince them that they’re getting a great deal.”

According to Wipper, the city spent $65,000 on graffiti removal last year.

Wipper added that “considering the number of Hydro poles and Hydro boxes within the city, $3,000 per year does not appear to be an unreasonable amount for BC Hydro to pay to relinquish its responsibility to remove graffiti from its distribution equipment located within the city.”

Hydro had originally signed off on the annual payment in lieu of meeting the city’s requirement to remove graffiti no longer than five days after it appears.

Olynyk said while Hydro will remove graffiti from its equipment that pops up near sensitive areas such as parks, community centres and schools, it’s impossible to keep up with all the graffiti that appears on Hydro property.

“We’ve got thousands of poles we have to deal with,” he said.

“It would be very costly for us to respond quickly and of course that would be passed on to our ratepayers.”

Olynyk said “graffiti is not the responsibility of the victims” and said that’s why the utility has the grant program in which it provides annual funding to communities across the province to remove graffiti.

“We deal with it as best we can but graffiti is a community problem,” he said.

Coun. Charlie Cornfield said he was “amazed” that Hydro was cutting back on its agreement and said the city could turn around and penalize Hydro for not adhering to the city’s five-day removal requirement.

“I don’t mind leaving it to staff but if worse comes to worst, we can always start writing tickets,” he said.

Wipper said the city has received “legal advice which confirmed that BC Hydro is not exempt from the city’s graffiti removal regulations and that it could be ticketed for non-compliance.”

Fines are $250.

But Olynyk said the city has been in touch and that Hydro “would be happy to discuss the amount (its) given to the municipality.”