Nanaimo aiming to spend $400,000 on downtown security

The City of Nanaimo is poised to spend $400,000 to pay for increased security throughout its downtown, as the city copes with problems ranging from increasing violence to open drug use and break-ins in parkades.

Mayor Leonard Krog said the situation stems from a mental health and addiction-acquired brain-injury crisis that’s affecting many communities. Nanaimo RCMP say they have seen a jump in mental-health related calls in the past couple of years.

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“This amazing downtown is still there and the purpose of this money is to try and keep it safe and secure enough to survive to better days,” Krog said Friday.

“There are some who are saying: ‘Well you shouldn’t be spending the money on security. You should be spending it on housing and treatment and those things.’ The simple answer is this: First, that is not our jurisdiction and we do not have the money to make a dent in that anyway.

“In the meantime, all we can do is try and make it safe and secure for people on our streets in our downtown, the businesses that are trying to survive through the rigours of COVID, the public services that need to be available that people feel comfortable entering.”

The expenditure, endorsed Wednesday by the city’s finance and audit committee, would supplement the work of bylaw-enforcement officers and other existing security, Krog said.

People have set up camp at the Diana Krall Plaza and are not willing to move on, said Krog, adding the city has no choice but to do something. In a perfect world, housing and facilities would be in place, but they are not, he said.

Kim Smythe, executive officer of the Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce, said businesses will be pleased to see downtown security beefed up, but he would rather see the money go toward solutions. Smythe opposes the city’s security plan, saying it will just move people around, and hopes to see additional help in the provincial budget to be released Tuesday. “We need something that is going to produce a net gain.”

The city’s finance and audit committee also endorsed spending $50,000 to expedite a new public-safety action plan.

Stakeholders such as Nanaimo RCMP, bylaw enforcement and private securities companies plan to meet to identify ways to improve public safety in the downtown area, identify security gaps and make recommendations to council.

The public-safety funding is part of the city’s upcoming financial plan.

Nanaimo is aiming to increase its property tax rate by three per cent for this year. Of that, two per cent would cover expected operating costs and the remaining one per cent would go into the city’s asset management reserve fund.

The 2021-2025 financial plan will be up for three readings at the May 3 council meeting.

Nanaimo is submitting an application to the federal-provincial Strengthening Communities’ Services Program to help recover some of the security costs.

Another $25,000 will be used to hire a consultant to help make the city’s building permit process run more quickly and efficiently.

The growing pace of development in Nanaimo has put pressure on its building-permit services. A report on the issue included recommendations to create two fast-track application streams and to add two more employees in that section.

The report also favoured investing in technology for the online business-permit-application system.

To help recover costs, the finance committee suggests the city apply to the Local Government Development Approvals Program, funded by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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