Details on victim services funding finalized

RDBN Area A director Mark Fisher on the proposed changes to victim services, including having rural residents pay in.

Several weeks ago Stoney Stoltenberg wrote a letter to the editor regarding Victim Services.

At that point, details about the proposed funding formula and process of voter approval had not been decided.

It was in the initial planning stage. Details have been finalized and I can now address some of his general concerns, as well as about the service itself.

1. Mr. Stoltenberg makes a valid point about provincial downloads.

This is something everyone should be aware off. Over the past several years, local government is being asked to foot the bill on many things: wildfire management, LNG pipeline reviews, rural fire department training, and more.

The amount of time and money that local government is being asked to dedicate to what some see as provincial responsibility is certainly increasing and, as he points out, without fair compensation.

The Regional District of Bulkley Nechako has made several motions at the Union of BC Municipalities annual conferences, as have other regional districts, which clearly reminds the provincial government that this is a major problem.

During individual minister meetings, we do the same. We do the same when asked about a specific issue by way of referrals.

We are continually reminding the higher level of governments that local government provides the majority of services to people with only 8 per cent of the tax dollar, and that there needs to be a more fair and realistic distribution of either funds or responsibilities.

Perhaps one day we will have a government that recognizes this and will listen.

2. In the meantime, we as a community are asked to provide services mandated by the province.

This is what the Victim Service is about. It is a part of what the RCMP is mandated to do and, similar to the RCMP, the Town of Smithers foots the entire local government portion.

Over $1 million for policing, approximately $25,000 for Victim Services.

The rural population, which is approximately 40 per cent of the community, does not pay anything to the local government portion.

This is not a case of “taking on others peoples expenses” as Mr. Stoltenberg puts it, but rather taking on our own expense.

It is also a case of economic efficiency. Where communities that Victim Services does not exist, the RCMP are still required to provide information about victims’ rights and other legislated requirements.

Having Victim Service staff and two long-time volunteers do this, instead of RCMP officers, is far more costs effective.

3. In terms of statistics, they are easily available.

Perhaps not five years ago, as it my understanding the RCMP did not keep them at that time.

I have been attending both Smithers and Telkwa council meetings on a semi-regular basis and know that stats are provided by Northern Society for Domestic Peace (who is contracted by the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General to provide the service).

They have been provided to me upon request as well. Perhaps it was Mr. Stoltenberg’s question that resulted in better record keeping. Thank-you.

Either way, these stats outline all costs of the service, as well as the number of responses/cases broken down by where the incident occurs as well as where the victim lives.

Many cases involve people in Area A. These stats change year to year, and therefore it is difficult to find a funding model that everyone will be happy with in every program year.

Supporters of the service think the important thing to remember is that the service can help anyone through the court system, through the medical system, with logistics and emotional support after they have experienced an extraordinary, unfortunate event in the Bulkley Valley.

It serves all the residences of our community at all times, those who live outside of it, just as the Victim Services of other political jurisdictions serve us when we find ourselves in a devastating or traumatic situation without the know-how, experience, or support to work through the justice system or the healing process away from our home.

4. In terms of implications, I will address Mr. Stoltenberg’s concern about taxation.

This past year, some taxation rates (Area A service areas) were significantly reduced. For example, grant in aid which has had a surplus for many years, was significantly reduced in anticipation of potentially other new services and taxation demands.

The end result was that Area A residences did not see a tax increase this past year (per $1,000/assessment, any increase would be from an increase in property value).

As a taxpayer with limited income myself, I am hoping to balance service and taxes and welcome any feedback on this at any time.

5. Regarding the voter approval process: At this time of Mr. Stoltenberg’s letter we are in the early stages of planning and only the authority had been given by the RDBN board of directors to establish a service.

In order for the service to be implemented, voter approval is necessary (through petition, alternative approval process (AAP), or referendum).

It has now been decided to move forward with an AAP. In an AAP, if 10 per cent of the electorate state opposition to the proposed service, then it does not go forward.

Choosing an AAP versus referendum is not an easy decision. It does not look like a traditional process but in terms of voter input it gives the same opportunity, with a significant cost saving over a referendum.

An AAP is not often understood, and I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Stoltenberg that people need to be informed on how to express their opinion.

Here is a timeline of what to expect, and how one may express their opinion:

Oct. 3–14, letters will be sent to all Area A residents about the AAP process (how it works as well as about the service). If you have not received this, then please contact the RDBN office in Burns Lake;

October 2016, public meetings (two, rather than just one as required by law) at which RDBN staff will give a presentation on the AAP process, how it works and why it is used. Information will also be presented on what is a ‘service area’ and how they are created and funded in the RD. Victim Services (Northern Society for Domestic Peace) will present the service itself. I will be there to hear concerns and answer questions. I will attempt to do this with the help of local media in October, and on an individual basis as well;

Oct. 19 (Wed), public meeting #1. Smithers Town Hall. 5:30-6:30;

Oct. 26 (Wed), public meeting #2. Round Lake Hall. 5:30-6:30;

Oct. 26, notification in The Interior News about the AAP;

Nov. 2, notification in The Interior News about the AAP;

Dec. 5, deadline for voter responses (confidential voter response form must be received from those who are in opposition to the service);

Dec.15, adopt bylaw.

Thanks for all those who have given feedback to me so far.

While I support Victim Services for the reasons outlined above, I am most concerned that people have an understanding of the process, and how they can be involved in any of the issues we face, or any of the services we offer in the rural Bulkley Valley and appreciate hearing all point of views.

Please contact me with any question or concerns at mark.fisher@rdbn.bc.ca or attend one of the public information sessions.

— Mark Fisher is the RDBN director for Area A.

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