Metchosin to veto repairs for police radio system
Tiny district footing unfair share of bill, wants to start own system, mayor says
Rob Shaw, Times Colonist
Published: Thursday, June 28, 2007
The tiny District of Metchosin is set to throw a big wrench into plans to fix the capital region's beleaguered digital emergency radio system.
Metchosin council has voted not to support changes to the governing structure and cost-sharing of the Capital Region Emergency Service Telecommunications system -- a move that will grind decision-making at CREST to a halt, and begin a political stalemate.
Mayor John Ranns said he's ready to leave CREST and start his own rural radio system because it provides such poor service to his fire and police crews. He said Metchosin is also footing an unfair share of the bill.
Victoria Police Sgt. Grant Hamilton demonstrates the CREST radio system.View Larger Image View Larger Image
"It's just not reasonable to expect us to support something that will raise our costs for a service we can't use effectively," said Ranns.
The digital system is supposed to link police, fire, military, ambulance and other emergency responders via secure radios. However, it has been plagued by poor building penetration and intermittent coverage -- much of which has been blamed on cost-cutting when it was implemented in 2003 for $17 million.
CREST now needs another $6 million to $10 million in fixes in order to work properly, and the changes to the governance and cost-sharing are seen as key to getting that done.
However, the board of governors needs 100 per cent agreement to spend the money -- a challenging issue given the frequent squabbles among municipalities.
The board is set to change to a two-thirds approval structure at a meeting next Wednesday, but it needs unanimous approval to make the change.
Ranns said he doesn't want to bring CREST down, but he's prepared to wield his veto until he gets a fair deal.
"If it wasn't for the veto there'd be no discussion at all," said Ranns. "It's pretty obvious. If they're not going to address our concerns when we have a veto, they're not going to address our concerns when we don't ... we'll just get completely ignored."
Metchosin council voted last Monday to tell its CREST representative, Coun. Kyara Kahakauwila, to vote against the changes at the upcoming meeting.
So far, Metchosin is the only council to try to scuttle CREST, although various municipalities and emergency crews have complained about unreliable service.
Victoria police now patrol only in pairs because the force says being alone with an unreliable radio is unsafe.
Ranns said he believes CREST's cost-sharing formula is also unfair, because it more heavily weighs a region's size than its population.
Metchosin is the second-largest municipality in the region by area, but has just 5,000 residents.
It pays $35,000 a year for CREST, but Ranns said the district can create a reliable system for $50,000 a year and not face a future increase due to population growth.
"We're willing to offer [CREST] a solution: Don't waste your time with us. We'll look after ourselves."
CREST chairman Hy Freedman said CREST has prepared a new presentation it wants to show Ranns before the vote on Wednesday.
"We're concerned they don't have all the information to make a decision," said Freedman. "I think we're just going to have to continue to try and convince Metchosin that if they want to see improvements in Metchosin, they have to vote for it."
Freedman's remarks drew an angry response from Ranns, who said he told CREST about the problems a year ago yet heard nothing, and also listened to CREST's council presentation last week.
"If we were misinformed, why the hell didn't he inform us then? This whole CREST thing, you know, is just ..." he said trailing off and sighing. "Well, I'm not going to say it."
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007