Echoes from 2020’s tumultuous tourist season continue to ricochet off the walls of Tofino’s district office.
The district is looking to spend about $609,075 on its bylaw enforcement department in 2022, up from $545,433 in 2021. The department expects to collect about $40,800 in bylaw fines and $321,452 in business licenses and permits for a total revenue of $362,252, leaving a $246,823 shortfall that local taxpayers will be on the hook for.
“We are responding to what we heard from the community in terms of delivering more bylaw services than we have had in the past to try to address some of the things that were making, as we heard in the summer of 2020, Tofino not unliveable, but a difficult place to be,” Tofino’s Chief Administrative Officer Bob MacPherson explained to the town’s council during an Oct. 13 budget meeting.
The district’s manager of protective services Brent Baker presented a bylaw enforcement budget that includes about $579,146 for staffing and administration, $4,100 for bylaw officer uniforms and roughly $22,000 for a new, electric, patrol vehicle.
The uniforms include steel toed boots and rain gear with the latter adding up to the highest expense on the uniform list with an expected cost of $2,100. Baker explained that with Tourism Tofino pushing to increase visitation during the stormy off-season months, enforcement officers will need durable gear on rainy patrols.
He said the new electric vehicle is needed to address a growing need for bylaw support throughout the district’s trails, beaches and downtown.
He said bylaw staff have had access to a utility vehicle, but it is “quite loud and intrusive to beachgoers.”
“Bylaw staff on foot patrol are often required to collect garbage for safety reasons, carry equipment to extinguish fires, collect up camping equipment that’s left behind by illegal campers and having access to an electric off-road utility vehicle, such as a Ranger or Polaris, would provide added safety of always being near a vehicle and offer enhanced ability to quietly service the area and provide a means to carry all equipment needed on a daily basis,” he said.
Coun. Al Anderson said he had heard negative feedback from residents about bylaw officers driving a vehicle on the beaches and asked if electric bicycles had been considered as an alternative.
Baker responded that bicycles were looked into, but would not fit the needs of his department, noting bylaw officers must carry gear to extinguish abandoned beach fires.
“I definitely understand that there has been some people that have not been happy with the tire tracks on the beach, or the fact that there’s a little bit of noise, but this is probably the most effective way that I can think of to manage the needs of the beaches the way that we are allowing them to be used currently,” he said.
Coun. Cathy Thicke expressed concern that the cost of bylaw enforcement “just keep going up” and suggested the department’s expenses should be matched by the revenue it brings in.
“When I see the expenses at $609,000 and the shortfall being $246,000, that means $250,000 has to come from taxation for bylaw…I think the problems are mostly stemming from increased visitors and visitor services needed,” she said. “Either we need to decrease expenses in this regard, or we need to increase the revenues. I’m not looking to say we need more tickets, but perhaps we need to look at the business licence fees because the $250,000 shortfall in my opinion is quite significant going forward.”
She suggested the town’s destination market organization should contribute to the bill.
“The expenses related to tourism are creeping up,” she said. “Tourism Tofino might have to help us offset these expenses that are being borne by the taxpayers, but are being created by the tourists.”
Coun. Britt Chalmers countered that tourism benefits the community.
“Increased tourism also increases businesses and business taxes, which is a benefit of that tourism. So that money is offset, in a sense, from the business community paying property taxes and I don’t think that burden should just be directed at Tourism Tofino,” Chalmers said.
District CAO Bob MacPherson said visitors are not the sole cause of the increasing bylaw pressures.
“We certainly have challenges in the evening hours with community members as well as with visitors that have caused us to increase bylaw resources,” he said.
He added that a review of the district’s business licence fees is “due or overdue” and there could be an opportunity to “close the gap” in future years, though it’s unlikely that the fees could be revised in time for 2022’s budget deadline.
Baker reiterated MacPherson’s comments about residents contributing their share to the problem.
“I definitely don’t want to put the impression out there that these expenses are primarily tourist-based. I believe we are involved with almost equal enforcement with residents and visitors,” he said.
Coun. Duncan McMaster questioned whether the district has swung too far to the side of education and compliance and suggested the time for more punitive measures has arrived.
“How long do you warn somebody before you actually fine them? I think that’s worthy of discussion because, I think, the community is in favour of more bylaw, but I think they want to see the enforcement that goes along with it as well,” he said.
Baker told the Westerly News after the meeting that the department has grown over the last five years with the addition of a business licence inspector and the RCMP reservist program.
“In general the costs are trending upwards, which makes sense. Things are getting busier, the community expects more enforcement and keeps asking for more enforcement and the only way we can do that is with the resources in place,” he said.
He said beachfires are one of the largest consumers of bylaw resources and suggested that the new mandate adopted this year that requires all beachfires to be contained within an approved appliance should lighten the load in the future.
“With some of the changes to the beach fire program, We assume that for two years there’s going to be some extra work and then we’re really hoping that things will plateau and there will be a bit more self-management and those additional resources won’t be required,” he said, noting that his department’s budget is currently expected to drop down to $483,831 in 2023.
“We’re optimistic that we will be able to function with reduced resources over time.”
He added Tofino “absolutely” gets good value from its bylaw enforcement team.
“For how hard they work, the amount of interactions that they have with the public, the situations that they deal with, which are not always easy and not always pleasant, they do an extremely good job,” he said. “I think we’re very fortunate to have the individuals in those positions that we do and I really hope it continues the way it is.”
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