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Saanich mayor says hefty tent city policing costs could lead to tax bump
As policing costs associated with a tent city in Saanich rise, the city's mayor warns that a tax hike could be coming as a result.
There's been a beefed-up police presence at the encampment at Regina Park, just across the highway from Uptown Mall, since it sprung up in May.
Saanich police now say that increased calls for service to the area are coming with an unexpected cost.
"Right now we're anticipating the cost for the Regina Park encampment to cost the police department anywhere between $600,000 to $700,000 by the end of the year," said Saanich Police spokesman Sgt. Jereme Leslie.
Police say the extra patrols in the area are necessary because there have been 90 calls for service since the beginning of May, up from 35 for the same period last year. Many of those calls are to report property crime.
"It doesn't make me feel that good, I must say," said neighbour Karen Lessard. ""With the reputation of things that can happen, everybody's concerned."
She said she's installed security cameras at her home to be safe, and she's also worried that if the camp continues to grow it'll have even more financial consequences.
"It's going to go on our taxes, isn't it? We're all paying for it one way or another," she said.
Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell says without any belt-tightening measures, taxpayers could be seeing an increase as a direct result.
"Some of that would come from an operational contingency fund, which is set aside every year to pay for things like snowfalls that are major and things like that," said Atwell. "But these kinds of monies would exhaust that contingency and so staff now need a direction from us to figure out where the money's going to come from."
Those living in the encampment say it's unfair to portray everyone there as troublemakers.
"They can't say that everyone in Regina Park is responsible for the crime increase in this neighbourhood," said camp organizer Chrissy Brett.
But it's not just neighbours who have safety concerns. A nearby McDonalds shut down its dining from from midnight until 5 a.m., relying on its drive-thru only during those hours.
There are also concerns for the campers themselves. Fire officials and police have been conducting inspections and encouraging campers to comply with fire orders, especially as the weather becomes hotter and drier.
"We're really concerned about the risk just increasing to the campers and the residents of the park," said Saanich police Insp. Gary Shenk. "We're here on a daily basis just working with the campers."