Saanich bylaw staff to take over parking enforcement from police

Saanich is beefing up its bylaw department to take over ­parking enforcement from the police and begin responding to more issues on evenings and weekends.

Faced with a soaring number of parking-related complaints, the district intends to hire three new bylaw officers as well as a new part-time clerk.

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Previously, Saanich police employed a parking enforcement officer on contract to handle parking issues Monday to Friday. Outside of business hours, however, responsibility for parking complaints fell to police officers in the traffic safety and patrol units.

Saanich Police Chief Scott Green made clear in a briefing note to Mayor Fred Haynes last year that parking enforcement was eating up too much of his officers’ time, and there were more efficient ways of doing things. Green noted that parking complaints increased by 484 per cent from 2013 to 2017, and his patrol and traffic officers were dealing with more than 60 per cent of those concerns when they could have been focusing on other duties.

About 1,750 hours of police time was spent dealing with parking complaints over a two-year period, he said.

“Other municipalities operate well-staffed parking-enforcement programs that do not involve police, but in Saanich, the police department is solely responsible for responding to parking complaints and enforcement, including the utilization of front-line police resources and supervisors,” Green wrote.

Municipal staff attribute the rise in parking complaints to population growth, development and an increase in the number of time-limited and residential-only parking zones.

Most of those complaints — 64 per cent — occurred in the evenings and on weekends, and staff recommended adding bylaw officers to deal with those issues more cheaply, while freeing up police officers to focus on their other duties.

Saanich council unanimously backed that recommendation this week. Councillors also approved plans to update the ticketing system and split a supervisor’s job into two ­positions — one with responsibility for bylaw and parking enforcement, the other focused on building inspections.

“I believe that the police, while they may be able to help out from time to time, should be focusing on their primary responsibilities,” Coun. Karen Harper said. “This is an area that, based on what happens in other municipalities, is best dealt with through bylaw officers.”

Coun. Colin Plant agreed. “We all value the work that our police department does and the significant cost to have a police officer conducting the work of parking enforcement, in my mind, was not good value for residents’ [and] taxpayers’ funds,” he said.

Mayor Fred Haynes said in an interview that the change will have spinoff benefits as well, since bylaw officers will be available evenings and weekends to deal with other complaints about noise or tree protection. “What was noticed would be the chainsaws would come out on that weekend,” he said. “Noise and parking issues would irritate the neighbors, and we just couldn’t address those issues because we didn’t have the staff.”

The cost of the new program is expected to be partially offset by a recent doubling of most parking fines from $25 to $50, as well as the fact that the expanded bylaw team will be issuing more tickets.

Staff project the net budget increase for the new program at about $126,000.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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