The City of Terrace will wait until the fall before deciding on the Terrace Downtown Improvement Area (TDIA) society’s request to acquire and continue with security patrols downtown.
The Northern Valley Rangers, a Nisga’a based security company, was hired by the TDIA as part of a two-month pilot program to help with excessive loitering and to gather reports on any crime-related activity, following an outcry of public safety concerns in the downtown area.
On May 27, TDIA offered their report to council at a Committee of the Whole meeting, calling the project a success and suggesting the city adopt and extend the contract. Council referred the report back to staff for further discussion.
But Danielle Myles, communication advisor for the City of Terrace told the Terrace Standard TDIA’s request is too late for this year’s budget.
“The City prides itself of being very fiscally responsible and our budget is now finalized for this fiscal year,” she wrote in an email. “The funding request of the TDIA could be considered in the budgeting process for next year and council may make those funding decisions at that time.”
At the meeting, TDIA president Dave Gordon told council it would cost the city $70,000 to hire the guards for the remainder of the year. Already, the TDIA has contributed $20,000 to run security patrols in the daytime and is willing to kick in another $10,000, but cannot afford to pay for the full cost.
“Based on our meetings with the Northern Valley Rangers, property and business owners and members of the community, we recommend the Rangers continue with the outreach and security services for the remainder of the year and that it’s funded by the City of Terrace with support from the TDIA,” said Gordon.
“They developed repertoire and respect with the people they engage with, demonstrated their ability to work constructively with the bylaw officer and the RCMP, gradually taking steps to connect individuals with the services.”
The part-time contract only allowed for 22 hours per week, with two rangers filling four-hour shifts a day circling the downtown area, including the casino and the CN rail tracks.
“We have no other security in the downtown other than what is pertained by the banks and other private firms downtown [right now],” Gordon said.
“The Rangers provide rates for staff and vehicle that are well below the RCMP rates and their presence will likely reduce RCMP and city bylaw officer staff time on downtown issues that are un-criminal. It will increase the time [RCMP] will be able to address other important issues.”
When asked by council why other businesses can’t give more to pay for the security, he says they’ve already paid enough in taxes and the TDIA levy. The City of Terrace collects the annual levy from each business, totaling $110,000 per year, which is then given to the TDIA to use towards community projects and events.
“We’ve never actually approached the problem with the full toolkit,” said Gordon. “With that housing project going forward, we want to be changing people’s habits where they’re congregating in the downtown and what they’re doing… but for that to be successful and for that to change their behaviour, there has to be some kind of people on the ground… moving them back to where they live and moving them to where it’s appropriate.”
He added that although social services help, they often “coddle a lot of people in the downtown with very little or no expectations of them” and that there needs to be “a firm hand and a fair hand at the same time” to resolve the issues.
But councilor Sean Bujtas says it isn’t the city’s responsibility to take on that financial role.
“We need to find solutions but the province isn’t stepping up and dealing with the issue, which is really their issue to deal with,” he says. “That’s the other problem with taking it on as it just becomes another download onto municipality from the province. Homelessness and mental health issues are all provincial mandate… It’s a bigger problem than just Terrace.”
He says he recognizes the need but notes the two-month trial is too short to give adequate data on whether it’s worthwhile to carry on.
“When you think about $10,000 a month, that’s a one per cent tax hike for taxpayers,” Bujtas says. “So now [if] you look at it that way, that’s a significant amount of money over the course of a year.”
Since their two-month contract ended, the Northern Valley Rangers have opened up an office in Terrace. Owner-operator John Clayton says he expects their services to be in greater need as industry develops in the region.
“Our population is going to go through the roof here pretty soon, I’m sure everybody’s aware of that. It’s just a matter of how many jobs are out there for these people, and I imagine there is going to be a few hundred that are going to float around in hopes to get work,” Clayton says. “Another factor is the weather, the summer alone brings a lot more people.”
He says during their patrols, they gained a lot of trust with those on the street. Their aim from the start was to minimize “unwanted activity” in a caring way.
“Our approach is very calm. We interact with them to try and get their stories, find out where they’re from, why they’re on the street,” says Clayton. “And if they know about any programs and services that are in Terrace that can help them get employment ready.”
As the Rangers wait to hear whether the city will hire them on, they continue to work other contracts in the area.