The city continues to grapple with the transient camp issue, both out on the street and along the river, as well as within council chambers.
With 22 transient camps still in existence in the community — but only five on city-owned land — Grand Forks city council considered a request Monday night in its regular meeting to extend the contract of the bylaw services officer for the remainder of the year.
Despite the success of the position for 2017, some on council felt the city could save money by suspending operation of the position until next spring.
Coun. Beverley Tripp felt with only five transient camps on city property, and 79 per cent of the community responding in a survey as not in favour of any increase in bylaw and building departments if it meant the budget would go up, that the city could curtail the service.
“With what we’ve got going on in the community, a lot of these homeless camps are going to disband because we’ve got winter coming. People don’t generally sleep in tents they will go indoors,” she said.
“Could we do something like keeping (the bylaw officer) on for a month, get him to clean up the camps … then bring the officer back next spring?”
Coun. Julia Butler agreed, and wanted to see money saved by cutting the bylaw officer position over the winter.
But there are other bylaws that need to be enforced, not just regarding transient camps, said Coun. Christine Thompson.
“If we reduce our bylaw enforcement and that gets out to the public, that is just an invitation for more abuse of the city’s bylaws,” she said. “I do believe there is already money in the budget for the remainder of 2017” for the position.
Mayor Frank Konrad felt the momentum gained with the creation of the position would be lost with suspension of service, noting that the officer hired showed initiative in enforcing a lot of the bylaws.
“We are going down a very dangerous path by eliminating (that position) at this point in time,” Konrad said. “And to risk losing him by not coming back at a later date, that would be a very bad move.”
Coun. Chris Hammett agreed.
“The word on the street and the word from residents is that it would be a lot worse if he wasn’t there,” she said.
Since the employment of the contracted bylaw officer in July 2016 the city has received very positive feedback on the effectiveness of the service, said David Bruce, manager of building inspection and bylaw services.
“With the officer working random hours and weekends, many have been surprised to see him out and about,” he said in his report to council. “The officer’s presence at events and just walking the beat downtown has given the residents a sense the city is taking action.”
Bylaw activities included:
- 42 camps removed from locations around the municipality;
- 10 unsightly property complaints acted upon, five currently unresolved but in the process;
- 167 watering restriction violations noted and resolved;
- numerous noise and parking violation situations acted upon;
- multiple no deer feeding notices have been issued.
However, the work in 2017 is not done, Bruce noted. At last count 22 transient camps exist within the city. With the proposed Parks Amendment Bylaw coming, which will enable camping in certain areas at certain times, it is expected that a relatively aggressive enforcement regime will be required, he said.
“The request for this extension, though, is primarily due to the transient and homeless problem which has gripped Grand Forks,” said Bruce. “With the proposed changes coming to our park camping rules, we believe the problem should soon be minimized.”
Normally the manager of bylaw services handles any bylaw issues that arise in the winter months.
“This year, though, with a surge in building inspection activity coupled with the homeless problem, we believe the extension of the bylaw services contract is warranted,” Bruce pointed out.
The results of the bylaw officer position was well received by the community, said Coun. Neil Krog.
“The community is asking for more (enforcement),” he said. “So he is valuable and I would like to keep him, and it is money well spent.”
Took building services back from the regional district and so that would account for the cost, and the city is still ahead of the game, he added.
Bruce said of the 22 camps the city is still dealing with, while only five may be on city property, they still have to deal with the entirety of the camps.
“So it is still 22 camps, regardless of the location,” he said. “I see a need for (the bylaw officer) more now than ever.”
The motion to extend the bylaw officer contract carried.
The funding for the contract extension is available within the 2017 bylaw enforcement budget approved in the 2017 financial plan and within the 2018 budgeting process, reflecting the continuation of the bylaw services position until Oct. 30, 2018.