Kamloops mayor fails to stall extra bylaw funding | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kamloops mayor fails to stall extra bylaw funding


Kamloops Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson tried and failed to delay the city's efforts to bolster the ranks of its bylaw department.

Hamer-Jackson pointed to a recent labour arbitration hearing with one of its unions about a controversial change in the scope of work for its bylaw officers, which the city now calls Community Service Officers. The hearing was completed this past fall, but a decision hasn't been made yet.

At issue in a March 7 city council meeting was another $900,000 to hire more officers in that department and the mayor questioned council and staff if they should await the outcome of the arbitration.

"I think we have unfinished business with that program. I don't think it rolled out that great," he said. "I'm just wondering if now is the right time to do that."

After he voiced his concerns to staff, he got immediate blowback from both staff and council, which appears now typical for a Kamloops city council meeting.

"The workload has more than expanded passed what we're capable of staffing," Byron McCorkell said, who heads the department overseeing Community Service Officers. "The arbitration is over. We have work to do, and we're asking council for the ability to go and do it."

Staff are asking for an $888,000 budget boost so the city can add at least six more officers to the department.

READ MORE: Sparks fly when Kamloops mayor gets pushback from fellow council members

The city expanded the department's role in September 2020, largely in response to homelessness and social issues. Bylaw officers now work more closely with both social services and RCMP, responding to a wider range of calls.

That decision was challenged by the officers' labour union later that year, after the transition was done without consulting the union. It subjected current employees to fitness tests, along with added responsibilities and riskier service calls. A Canadian Union of Public Employees local 900 spokesperson previously told iNFOnews.ca just five of the former bylaw officers remained on the job after the transition.

In 2018, the department had 9,400 calls throughout the year, but that's ballooned to 17,000 in 2022 without increasing staff, according to McCorkell. That's in addition to increasing enforcement hours from 12 hours per day to 16, with plans to eventually bring that to 24 hours per day. McCorkell said it's fully staffed with 24 officers, which includes city cell jail guards.

"At the end of the day, we're providing much more support for (RCMP) operations than we've ever done, and we're also taking on more work on the streets with regard to social response than we've ever done," McCorkell said. "So we've got way more work than we've ever done with bylaw officers."

READ MORE: Union confident in overturning Kamloops changes to bylaw officer duties

Although staff acknowledged the city is still waiting for a labour arbitrator's decision, neither McCorkell nor chief administrative officer David Trawin gave a clear explanation as to whether it could impact the department's budget.

"In my humble opinion, we'll need these bodies regardless," Trawin said.

All other councillors at the table disregarded Hamer-Jackson's questions and applauded the department, with two exceptions. 

"Certainly there's been challenges as this program has been developed and rolled out, but I believe we are at a point where this program is being looked at by municipalities throughout the entire province," councillor Mike O'Reilly said, calling Kamloops a "leader" among other cities in B.C. Penticton's "community safety officers" is a similar program introduced last year.

"We've heard that the RCMP are thrilled with the program, but most importantly... the street issues are expanding out into the rest of the city and we can't have our (officers) focused on just West Victoria and the Tranquille Market," councillor Dale Bass said.

READ MORE: Kelowna Mountie acquitted in violent arrest set for code of conduct hearing

Others also chimed in to voice their support for increasing staff to improve "community safety."

"We hear the business community crying out and expressing their struggles," councillor Katie Neustaeter said. "We care very much about it. Safety is a conversation amongst us every single day and we're all equally invested in making that happen."

Neustaeter said any talk of lowering wages for the officers is an "extreme ask" and should be "off the table," seeming to believe that's what Hamer-Jackson is proposing. The mayor was instead concerned that it could be a consequence of the impending labour decision.

"It's not about safety," Hamer-Jackson said. "Safety's number one on my list, OK? But they're not police officers, they're not trained like outreach workers."

Whether an arbitrator could decide that the city should revert to its old wages isn't clear.

The union voiced its opposition to the bylaw department changes within months of the transition, along with its intent to take the city to a labour arbitrator.

Former union president Carmen Sullivan called the restructuring "inefficient and ill-conceived"  in December 2020, going on to claim management behind the change had "little or no" bylaw experience.

Labour arbitration was initially set for August 2021, but it was eventually delayed until the fall of 2022, with a decision still yet to be released.

With two councillors not in the room, they voted 5-1 to approve the $888,000 budget boost. Councillor Bill Sarai recused himself because his son is a community service officer, so he declared a conflict of interest, while councillor Margot Middleton was absent.

Hamer-Jackson was the only opposing vote, but it will still return for one more vote at another council meeting before its included in the 2023 budget.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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