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City reports Salmon Arm encampment costs greater than anticipated

Original anticipated cost of $46,000 may end up being $125,000
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Heavy equipment removes grass, soil and a tree from the site of a former tent encampment off 3rd Street SW in Salmon Arm after the last tent vacated the spot on Friday, April 14. (File photo)

Costs associated with the Narcisse Street NW encampment are higher than anticipated and continue to increase.

Salmon Arm planning and community services director Gary Buxton detailed these costs in a report shared at the Aug. 28 city council meeting. He explained a preliminary budget of $46,000 was developed to cover the cost of moving the encampment from the Safeway Fields to the current location, and for managing the new site at Narcisse. After four months, staff reviewed costs related to the encampment and found actual costs have been “significantly higher”– $71,000 at the end of July. Buxton said if current trends continue, that figure could reach $125,000.

Breaking down where the money has gone, Buxton said material, equipment and labour costs that went into restoring Safeway Field accounts for a significant part of the cost increase – approximately $15,000. Associated with this was time spent assisting unhoused individuals with moving to the Narcisse location, along with an “unanticipated 10-person grid search” of Safeway Fields for potential drug paraphernalia.

Ongoing maintenance costs, including garbage removal, have also been “more complicated than anticipated.” Contributing to this, Buxton explained, are people donating items that aren’t of use and also materials accumulated by occupants.

“We’re continuing to go to the site and clean that up on a regular basis,” said Buxton.

Security expenses have also been more than anticipated – $10,000 was the city’s initial estimate, while the anticipated cost is now $40,000.

Fencing required (due to vandalism) at the nearby weather station is not included in the $71,000, nor is staff time for RCMP and bylaw enforcement. Buxton noted the RCMP have been “very supportive in terms of trying to deal with that issue and have adjusted their staffing accordingly to help us out.”

Buxton explained of the $71,000, $34,000 is coming out of the operational budgets for parks and roads.

“So we’re not over budget at this time because a bunch of that expense has been put through line items we already have in those two departments,” said Buxton, adding this redirection of funding leaves the two departments “compromised” as a result.

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Buxton said this year’s expenses will help inform staff’s preparation of the 2024 operating budget in terms of bylaw enforcement, staffing and removal of the encampment once the shelter is open.

Coun. Louise Wallace Richmond commented it is very important this report is made public, as “community members need to understand there’s an opportunity cost to addressing this crisis and with the new shelter, there will still be associated costs…” She also said it’s important for the province “understand what we’ve been up against and how much money we’ve spent.”

Coun. Kevin Flynn suggested bodies like the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) and the Southern Interior Local Government Association be called upon to ask that its members provide similar accounting for their councils.

“I would love to see UBCM collect this info from everybody and present it to the province, and say what the province needs to be budgeting for in the future so it’s not a municipal issue,” commented Coun. Sylvia Lindgren.

Mayor Alan Harrison referred to the work being done with the encampment as necessary, even though “we don’t necessarily collect taxes for this.”

“If we were to wait until we got monies coming from the province to do this, the work would not get done, we know that,” said Harrison. “And so for residents, residents expect this work to be done and I echo council’s thanks to our parks and roads staff. We see them out there, we see them doing this work. They have established relationships with people they’ve needed to establish relationships with, and they are respected out there. And some of this work is not very nice work and they continue to do it. So I want to thank them for that.



lachlan@saobserver.net
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Lachlan Labere

About the Author: Lachlan Labere

Editor of the Salmon Arm Observer, Shuswap Market, and Eagle Valley News. I'm always looking for new and exciting ways to keep our readers informed and engaged.
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