The North Central Local Government Association is trying to halt a pricey bill hitting municipalities across BC.
In 2013, the federal government decided to redo the funding model, with the feds paying 54% of costs, and the provinces picking up the remaining 46%.
“While all provinces and territories are now faced with the same cost pressures related to DNA analysis services, I am not aware of any other province, other than British Columbia, that is shifting a portion of these costs to local government,” wrote Union of BC Municipalities’ President and Chair of the Cariboo Regional District Al Richmond.
“During negotiations around this change, we engaged municipalities, briefed the president of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) and UBCM’s Local Government Contract Management Committee,” Justice Minister Suzanne Anton noted in a statement earlier this month. “My staff also briefed police chiefs and police boards,”
NCLGA President Brian Frenkel is also under the impression that BC is the only province making towns pay the costs, and they weren’t even aware it was happening.
“Suzanne Anton talked about that we did know, but I can tell you everybody inside the NCLGA really didn’t know that was coming our way.”
Every town or city with more than 5,000 people will be expected to make the payments, with Prince George looking at a $51,876.95 bill for the 2016/17 fiscal year.
“You see towns like Dawson Creek having to come up with almost $26,000, and Prince George with almost $52,000… It’s going to come out of their tax base,” explains Frenkel. “The citizens of PG, the citizens of Dawson, Smithers… It’s not something any of us budgeted for.”
The news is gaining relevance at a particularly trying time for towns across the province.
“We have to have budgets approved by May of next year, but most communities have budgets they’ll be working on over the winter. They’re going to have to come up with some sort of mechanism to pay for it in the meantime.”
And if they can’t?
“What I think we’re going to see here is a backlog of samples. I’m worried that DNA will get collected at crime scenes, but will only be selectively tested because of the financial burden it places on the municipalities,” says Shaely Wilbur, councillor for the City of Dawson Creek and NCLGA Second Vice President. “We could, potentially, lose one of the most useful tools in crime conviction.”
At the end of the day, many communities facing a tough bottom line have been left in a precarious position.
“It’s got to come out of the pockets of the taxpayers, and now towns have to take a look at their budgets to see where they’re going to get the money to pay these costs,” says Frenkel. “I’m not going to say anyone can’t afford it, it’s just another issue that they’re being downloaded. We have heard from Terrace and other communities saying ‘Woah, how are we going to manage this?'”
The NCLGA and UBCM are rallying for the provincial government to reverse the decision.