It was budget feedback night for the public at Chilliwack city hall Tuesday.
Some of the exact same issues and questions came up on the council floor as last year’s information hearing on the financial plan.
Once again there was a call for a zero tax increase, and once again there were calls for city council to support Hope River slough restoration in the budget.
Several speakers said they were worried about high tax bills in the face of hugely increased property assessments. One person asked for a lower tax increase.
But then there was the call from Dr. Chantal Chris, a Chilliwack Outreach Team physician, asking council to work with Fraser Health officials to establish a “safe consumption” site to cut overdoses and opioid-related deaths.
Dr. Chris and local ER physician Dr. Marc Greidanus are lobbying city, provincial and health officials to take a good look at it for Chilliwack.
“My request is fairly simple as I am hoping city council can pass a motion to work with Fraser Health to look into the possibility of having a safe consumption site established here,” Dr. Chris said.
She urged council to make it a priority, adding the medical evidence is convincing.
“A safe consumption site, in cooperation with opioid substitution, detox and social housing,” are some of the best ways to reduce homelessness, and crime associated with opioid abuse disorders.
“Separately they don’t work as well,” said Dr. Chris. “Detox alone is not as effective.”
The evidence, gathered from research and an extensive literature review, is pointing to much better results with a coordinated approach, something of which Fraser Health is keenly aware, the physician stated.
“But they are unable to move forward,” she noted, held back by politics and financial consideration.
“But City of Chilliwack has the power to help with both of these considerations. I hope you will choose to partner with Fraser Health.”
She later suggested city council underestimated its power, and could be the reason why such a service is one day set up in Chilliwack.
She drew a parallel to Toronto preparing for the fentanyl crisis, where the idea of safe injection was only approved after city council endorsed the idea.
While Chilliwack has been “isolated” from the huge increase in overdose numbers seen in other parts of the Fraser region, “it is starting now,” she warned.
Chilliwack will “not be immune” to that spike, Dr. Chris warned.
They’re already seeing an increase in overdoses in the local ER, and in the primary health clinic. There is more talk about naloxone, the overdose treatment drug, now carried by emergency responders.
“It’s a real concern,” she said, adding later that they deserve not to die, and these facilities reduce mortalities.
A safe consumption site would save on some of those costs, and could help Fraser Health “mitigate the ravages” of the illicit street drug addictions.
“It’s a very difficult illness to treat,” she said. “We can’t arrest our way out of it, and we can’t just hire more RCMP. This is the proactive approach.”
Mayor Sharon Gaetz’s response was essentially remind the doctor that health services are provincial, and it’s a discussion better had through their role on Chilliwack Healthier Community.
“I do want to say that we have been working hard with Fraser Health and what we are hearing is there is no money,” said Gaetz.
The more common approach has been, not which is the best strategy, but how to we pay for it, she said.
“I know people are looking at safe injection, but the drugs they use, my understanding is that they are not provided at these sites. They bring their own in,” she said. “Also about 90 per cent of the crime we experience in Chilliwack is related to getting those drugs.”
The mayor said the emphasis should be on detox for when people are ready to go into recovery, and on getting retractible needles.
“Often detox is not available when the addicts are ready. So daytox is one solution, as safe injection is one solution.”
Coun. Ken Popove stated he was an “advocate” of safe injection.
“I would encourage you to touch base with Chilliwack Healthier Community,” he said, noting “the science is there” for safe injection, and it’s top of mind for the group.
Once again, resident Gary Raddysh came before council to urge them to adopt a zero per cent tax increase.
“All Canadians cannot afford any more government intrusion,” he said.
Chilliwack taxpayers need some relief, as the pressure is “immense” on them.
“So a zero per cent increase says we are all in this together.”
The 2017 budget and financial plan calls for 10 new RCMP officers to be hired for 2017, as well as two RCMP information officers. As a result the proposed property tax rate increase for Chilliwack is higher than usual at 3.45 per cent. Policing accounts for 32 per cent of the budget.
There are also plans for expanded transit services, including new services areas and more frequent service for some routes. One new firefighter will be hired.
For capital plans, there’s construction of the Sardis Rail Trail and new roundabouts, as well as improvements at the Landing Spray Park.