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Finance committee to debate $2 million price tag for downtown initiatives

On Monday the city’s finance and audit committee will debate $2.6 million worth of initiatives designed to help deal with the ongoing social issues downtown.

If all the items are approved, however, they would only add $2 million to the city’s budget, as $600,000 could be found within the existing budget. The measures are in “response to public demand for greater response from the city on the social issues facing the downtown area,” according to the committee report. They would, if adopted, would result in a budget increase of 1.84 per cent.

There are 10 items up for consideration. The mostly costly is the proposal to hire six additional bylaw enforcement officers at a cost of $523,040. In 2019, bylaw services added two ‘bylaw compliance assistants,’ who focus on downtown social issues and clean up. These services are provided Monday – Friday, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. The six additional officers would maintain this level of service seven days a week, from morning to night.

The second most expensive item on the list is for ‘marginalized camp and illegal dump clean up, slated at $501,000.

To date, in 2019, there have been 117 major homeless camp cleanups; this is in addition to the illegal dumping cleanups throughout the city, according to the report. Although a majority of these sites are located within the vicinity of downtown and the bowl area, there have been numerous camps located elsewhere throughout the city. A major cleanup is separate from the nearly 2,000 service calls received for minor or routine cleanups. A major cleanup can include up to 19 staff, evident during one example at Carrie Jane Gray Park: 19 staff (Parks and Bylaw), two bobcats, two dump trucks and one bucket truck and chipper were used. Prior to a major scheduled cleanup, policing and bylaw resources are used to meet with the inhabitants and provide them with time to gather their belongings and move on. A major cleanup may take up to an entire day to conduct.

This proposal includes: three new staff (one crew consisting of a permanent FTE, and two nine month/year positions), a dump truck, a 20-foot flat deck trailer, and a skid steer.

The proposal also calls for a public works downtown service level increase to the tune of $408,986.

In 2019, contracted security costs are forecasted to be just below $350,000. These costs have been absorbed across multiple facility budgets resulting in overages. Security costs over the previous few years have significantly increased, and service requests display no evidence of abatement, according to the city report. These costs include full-time security guard presence at the Four Seasons Leisure Pool, First Ave Building (shared by TourismPG and CN Rail), the Prince George Conference and Civic Centre (during events), and periodic mobile security for the RMCA and Canada Games Plaza area.

The report suggests that mobile security should be increased to a full-time contracted position at RMCA, to include a roving / mobile patrol of the larger downtown core. Total service enhancement for security for 2020 is $400,000.

The report also calls for a $273,249 expenditure for the RCMP to provide seven two-member patrols at six hours each per week in the downtown area.

It calls for $150,000 in security upgrades to parkade security gates.

In late 2019, two homeless service hubs opened in the downtown. The hubs are operating as pilot projects, with the goal of better connecting individuals living on the street to services and supports. One is located at 181 Quebec Street and the other is at 144 George Street.

The committee will look at committing another $236,000 to the hubs which will enable the year round operation of both and will accommodate the relocation of the Quebec Street pilot to a larger and more appropriate site.

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