With just a few weeks left for citizens in North Cowichan to participate in the alternative approval process to determine if they want to borrow $48 million to construct a new RCMP detachment, a lot of questions from the community are being asked about the project.
A number of these questions have already been asked and answered by this paper and the municipality itself through its website and other means since the project was first planned in 2012 but, judging from the queries we have been receiving in the newsroom, it may be a good time to revisit some of the issues so the public will be provided with as much information as possible before they decide if they want to support it financially.
1. First of all, North Cowichan’s council decided last summer to not hold a general referendum to seek permission from eligible voters to borrow the money to construct the long-anticipated, new RCMP facility that will be constructed on a five-acre property owned by North Cowichan bordering Ford Road and Drinkwater Road.
Instead, the municipality decided to use the alternative approval process to determine if the electorate wants to borrow to build the new detachment.
An AAP requires that at least 10 per cent, or 2,692, of the eligible voters in the municipality sign and submit response forms, which are available on the city’s website and in mail-outs sent to residences, in opposition to the project to stop the borrowing process from proceeding.
A lot of people would rather a full referendum on the issue be held, but council decided to go with an AAP process for a number of reasons, including the costs.
A staff report pointed out that a referendum would cost taxpayers between $50,000 and $100,000, while an AAP would cost just about $2,000.
Also, Mayor Al Siebring said that in his more than a decade sitting on council, he has seen some AAPs that have been very successful, like the forestry referendum in the Cowichan Valley Regional District and North Cowichan’s diking program after the flooding in 2009, and he believes this one can be as well.
However, if 10 per cent of voters in North Cowichan sign forms in opposition to the project during the AAP process, which ends on July 14, the municipality would then have to choose to either hold a referendum within 80 days, or council may put the project on hold and consider alternatives.
2. But the alternatives may not be palatable to many in North Cowichan as a staff report written last year stated that if voters don’t give assent to borrow the money for the project, the RCMP has the authority to potentially construct the building on its own anyway and charge the cost back to North Cowichan, and those costs could even be higher.
3. Concerns have also been raised as to why the estimated cost of the project has risen so much from the $23 million that was originally estimated in 2012 when the project was first planned.
Like many large capital projects, the construction of the new detachment has faced numerous delays over the past eight years and building costs have risen considerably in that time.
The scale of the project has also increased significantly as planning continues.
The current plans for the new facility are for it to be a hub detachment that will bring together the North Cowichan/Duncan detachment, Forensic Identification Services, South Island Traffic Services, First Nations Policing and some services of the Shawnigan Lake RCMP detachment under one roof.
4. The fact that North Cowichan’s taxpayers are expected to borrow the full amount of the detachment has also raised the ire of many.
But while North Cowichan will pay the full cost up front, the RCMP and the province would be responsible for paying back 60 per cent of costs of the new detachment, so in the end, only the remaining 40 per cent (approximately $19.2 million) would be paid for by North Cowichan.
5. Questions are also being asked about why it seems the citizens of Duncan and the Cowichan Valley Regional District, who will also be served by the detachment, are not having to help pay for it.
In fact, under the policing agreement with the province, Victoria pays for all the policing costs for communities under 5,000 people, and communities with more than 5,000 people, like North Cowichan, pay for 90 per cent of their costs.
This means the portion of the bill owed by the City of Duncan, which currently has a population of just under 5,000, and the CVRD will go to the province, but taxpayers in those jurisdictions still pay for the costs of policing from their annual taxes.
6. Some people have asked why the empty Rona building in Cowichan Commons or the old Canadian Tire facility on Beverly Street couldn’t be considered for the new detachment, as final construction costs could be much cheaper in a building already completed.
But these buildings don’t meet the RCMP’s requirements for the facility.
In 2018, the municipality consulted an architect to determine whether the Rona building could be used to house the new detachment, and it was deemed unacceptable.
It was concluded that the builders would essentially have to construct a “secure building” inside the existing shell of the Rona building, and that would be very complex and potentially more costly than building a new detachment.
Additionally, the way these capital projects are funded, North Cowichan would be 100 per cent responsible for the $10 million cost of acquiring the Rona property, while the RCMP would only contribute to the renovation costs.
Siebring also said at the time that the building was considerably larger than what the RCMP would need, which would potentially have left the municipality in the position of competing with the private sector in leasing out commercial space.
7. Some wonder why the existing detachment on Canada Avenue can’t be upgraded, at a much cheaper cost than the construction of a brand new facility, but it has been concluded that the old building is well past the end of its life.
The building has had ongoing issues with rodents, leaking, flooding, and lack of adequate space.
As well as being in deteriorating condition, the current facility is unable to hold the number of officers, prisoners and support staff to meet the needs of a growing community.