Survey says what? Crime and security not the most pressing issue facing downtown Vernon businesses? | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Survey says what? Crime and security not the most pressing issue facing downtown Vernon businesses?

February 26, 2019 - 3:23 PM

VERNON - The conversation surrounding Vernon's street entrenched population and its effect of downtown business may be hotly debated, but a recent survey shows the issue isn't the most pressing challenge downtown business owners face.

A survey conducted by the City of Vernon found 20 per cent of downtown businesses that responded said finding staff was their biggest challenge. Homelessness issues and crime were second on the list with just 18 per cent of downtown businesses saying it was their biggest challenge.

The results of the 2019 Virtual Vernon Business Walks Survey, sent out to businesses in the downtown core, were widely interpreted by councillors after being presented at their Feb. 25 meeting.

Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming questioned the statistical relevance of the survey, in which 49 replies were received out of roughly 200 questionnaires sent out. Councillor Kari Gares asked what information could be gleaned from the survey with such a poor response rate. City staff said the 25 per cent response rate was actually good for an online survey.

Coun. Brian Quiring asked whether the small number of people who responded indicated "things aren't as bad as people say."

"I don't think that's a conclusion that we can draw, I think a lot of people are fed up," Coun. Scott Anderson told "We've had meetings, town halls, task forces. I think a lot of the business owners and citizens have thrown their hands up and said why are we answering another survey," he said.

When asked whether the survey suggested things weren't as bad as often touted, Mayor Cumming said crime and security affected different businesses differently.

"I'm not diminishing those who are speaking loudly about this where it's really deeply affecting them. There are lots of other businesses in the downtown core that haven't been affected at the same magnitude," he said.

And councillors weren't just skeptical of reading too much into a survey from such a small group, the manner in which one answer was recorded also caused concern.

Couns. Kelly Fehr and Anderson both agreed the issue of homelessness and crime had to be separated in surveys and during the conversation.

"It draws a correlation that isn't always there,” Fehr said.

The practice of lumping homelessness and crime together isn't just a concern for local politicians interpreting survey results. Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce general Manager Dione Chambers told a recent survey they'd conducted showed businesses spoke about homelessness and security as two separate entities.

"We called all of them and not one said anything about homelessness," Chambers said. "They talked about security, they talked about safety."

Chambers also pointed out 18 per cent of 49 businesses, in a city that has roughly 1,800 businesses was a "pretty small group."

A recent survey conducted by the chamber focussing on the whole of Vernon and not just downtown, found out of 57 businesses, 25 per cent had to spend money because of security issues. Dione said costs ranged between $200 and $2,000 per week. And according to Chambers, businesses had replied "a bit" when they were asked whether the extra security had helped.

Dione said businesses said security may have also pushed the issues into other areas and on to businesses that didn't have security.

"The general feedback from the business community was there needs to be a blanket solution," she said.

On the positive side, the City's survey found, 39 per cent of downtown businesses said business was good or increasing, 47 per cent said it was fair or steady, with 14 per cent saying business was slow or poor.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 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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