Solicitor General Mike Morris called the Okanagan Correctional Centre (OCC) an “economic boon” for the area, but a rise in population could lead to taxpayers taking the brunt of policing costs.
The province covers policing costs for municipalities under 5,000 people, but breaking that number puts 70 per cent of the policing costs on the municipality and possibly its taxpayers.
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However, there are few hard numbers until the release of the latest federal census data (population and dwelling counts), which is released on Feb. 8, 2017.
“I can only guess,” Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes said.
He noted the start of the school year saw around 100 new students across the three Oliver schools.
“Which is huge for a small community,” Hovanes said.
Oliver came in at 4,824 in the last federal census in 2011 — 176 shy of the threshold.
“We were really close to 5,000. (BC Stats) suggests we lost 300 or 400 people in the last year prior to corrections moving in and all these jobs being created,” Hovanes said.
Hovanes suspects Oliver will remain under a provincial contract for policing when the latest data is released.
“I can only tell you what my gut is sort of suggesting to me is that we missed the last census,” Hovanes said. “The corrections facility is definitely going to have an impact on our community and other communities in the South Okanagan.”
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Anecdotally, Hovanes has heard from realtors who told him corrections staff have kept them busy over the past year.
“As a small community we’ve been running out of product, that’s what we’ve been hearing,” Hovanes said, adding there are two new housing development starts in Oliver.
“(The correctional centre) is going to have an impact. Close to 300 jobs, 240 corrections staff plus 60 contracted personnel,” Hovanes said. “I’m thinking a couple people, a couple kids per family, we’re talking close to 1,000 people moving to the South Okanagan. Not necessarily just Oliver and the surrounding area.”
Morris also said while speaking with media last week about the correctional centre not all of the workers at the facility will necessarily be relocating to Oliver, with some commuting from as far as West Kelowna.
Oliver council has looked to similar communities who have had to deal with the sudden costs of policing.
A similar situation occurred in Peachland, which passed the threshold of 5,000 people in the 2011 national census. The costs reached around $650,000 for Peachland in 2016.
“We have had some preliminary discussion on that. You’re preparing for going over 5,000, even if you have a nest egg you can soften the pain over a number of years. When that nest egg is gone you’re going to have to boost it,” Hovanes said.
Hovanes and Oliver council members have lobbied the province, including at this year’s UBCM conference in Victoria, in an effort to see a more graduated system, sparing smaller municipalities from the one-time hit to their finances.
“At the UBCM, we had a resolution that would have the province look at a regional policing model based on population, whether you’re rural or urban,” Hovanes said. “That resolution didn’t pass. We had a lot of rural directors come to the mic and say they didn’t want that model because they are under the provincial model.”
Morris indicated the correctional centre has not only brought an increase in direct jobs, but spin-off employment in the service industry. There are no hard numbers as of yet, but Hovanes has seen increases nearly across the board.
The Oliver Chamber of Commerce is currently doing a business walk, touching base with different businesses throughout the community.
“They are going through different businesses and every single one of them that they went through today all said nothing but positive things as far as their business and projections. That they’re busier than normal right now because there is a hub of activity going on,” Hovanes said. “I think there’s a hub of activity in the Okanagan, but Oliver is not missing it. We’re pretty busy, pretty active.”