The board of the Capital Regional District wants the province to implement a new levy on cellphones to fund the region’s emergency communications system.
When the Capital Region Emergency Service Telecommunications, or CREST, was formed in 2001, a levy on landlines covered the cost of operations. But with fewer homes using landlines, the pool of funding has dropped each year, forcing the CRD to provide more in subsidy.
On Wednesday, board chair Colin Plant was asked to work with Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth on the levy to generate revenue for CREST.
“This has been a longstanding issue in terms of whether or not the province would move forward on a cellphone levy,” said Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith. “I appreciate that there have been previous [Union of B.C. Municipalities] motions on this and that another one is coming forward, but we have a particular interest at the CRD in that we are providing a subsidy.”
Currently the CRD, which has an agreement with CREST to provide an emergency communications system for the region, funds about $1.7 million of the organization’s $8-million budget.
The region’s municipalities all contribute a share based on use of the system, size, population and the number of emergency radios on the system.
The CRD believes it’s time to change the arrangement.
A motion set to be heard at next week’s Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in Vancouver asks that the 911 emergency communications system be modernized to include a levy on cellular devices, to address current and future financial challenges associated with the delivery of 911 services.
CRD finance committee chair Susan Brice said regardless of what happens at the UBCM, the CRD should act.
“We know the implications of maintaining [the existing system]. It’s no longer appropriate in 2023 and so we’re on firm ground, I think, to go ahead and make a strong case,” she said.
According to Statistics Canada, by 2019, the last year numbers were available, just over half of all B.C. homes had a landline, down from 72.5 per cent in 2014.
Canada-wide, about 54 per cent of homes had landlines in 2019, down from 75.5 in 2014.
Meanwhile, the percentage of homes with a cellphone has increased in B.C. to 92.9 per cent, up from 84.5 per cent in 2010.
On Wednesday, the CRD voted unanimously to approve this year’s CRD funding for the CREST service at just over $1.8 million.