The front cover of 24 Hours Vancouver asks a very good question
UPDATE @ 6 pm: Several media outlets are reporting that the costs related to Occupy Vancouver are approximately $500,000 for the first week alone...with no end in sight. Check out Frank Luba's story to be published in Friday's Province newspaper.
You knew it was bound to happen. After almost a week of camping out on the front lawn of the Art Gallery, people are starting to ask questions regarding how much Occupy Vancouver is costing taxpayers. It's a legitimate question considering the fact Mayor Gregor Robertson has laid out the welcome mat and told squatters they can stay there as long as they want.
The Seattle Times reported yesterday that the cost to their city taxpayers related to the "Occupy" encampment was $104,869. Most of those expenditures came in the form of overtime costs paid to city police. What the Mayor didn't quantify was the non-overtime related expenditures. As you can appreciate, there a lot of city staff working on the Occupy Seattle file who don't show up in overtime bills.
North of the border Vancouver's encampment will be celebrating its one week anniversary on Saturday. There is no sign this group is moving out anytime soon. In fact, quite the contrary. Reporter Andrea Woo was tweeting out yesterday that even more supplies were being dropped off to help fortify the encampment. She stated:
#OccupyVancouver got two truckload of palettes to put under tents in preparation for rain lockerz.com/s/148587950
When the media asked Mayor Gregor what the squat was costing taxpayers he appeared completely clueless. Here is what 24 Hours Vancouver reported this morning:
Robertson said he doesn’t know the taxpayers’ bill for city, fire and police staff to monitor the tent camp around the clock.
Despite the fact Robertson had been poorly briefed on this file, it appears city staff were not. They told 24 Hours Vancouver that it costs upwards of $2000 per day for engineering staff alone! Then you have to add the costs for police and fire department staff overtime. I have no doubt the squat is costing taxpayers a minimum $35K-40K per week (both fixed & incremental costs). Just imagine how many anti-graffiti programs you could fund with this kind of cash.
Now that the Chair of the Vancouver Police Board has said the squatters can stay indefinitely, his Police Chief is waving the white flag. He's telling the media that 24/7 police presence for months on end will result in his department being over budget for the first time in seven years.
The Vancouver Courier asked Mayor Gregor what would happen if Occupy Vancouver did in fact push the police department into the red. Here is an excerpt:
If the VPD runs a deficit, the mayor said it would likely be covered by a city contingency fund. But what’s the consequence to the VPD of going over budget?
“That’s a good question,” Robertson said. “It hasn’t happened under my watch and for several years before, so it’s obviously something we’ll look closely at what next steps and proactive approaches we can take so the police can address an extraordinary year like this.”
Wow, that was reassuring!
Whether or not the squat eventually becomes an issue or not is anyone's guess. However, a hard hitting editorial from CKNW's Bill Good yesterday might help to provide some insight into what the media are thinking as we near the final stretch of the civic campaign. Good stated (mp3):
But by last night the occupation had fallen off the news cycle. Occupy Vancouver has been reduced to a handful of young people clearly out of step with mainstream society. Pitching tents on of the grounds Vancouver Art Gallery and the Mayor [Gregor Robertson] seems ok with it. He said yesterday as long as it doesn't generate into violence it can stay indefinitely. Really? What's next? A tent city in Stanley Park. Can you gather some friends and set up a tent encampment at Jericho beach? Who gets to cross the line? And is it the mayor who decides? We are spending a lot of money policing this week...to watch over the campers at the Art Gallery [pause]...indefinitely.
The mayor's let-them-stay-for-awhile position may be noble, but taxpayers r footing the bill and deserve to know what the end game is here.
NPA Suzanne Anton today asking legitimate questions of Mayor Robertson re: costs related to policing #OWS tent city at art gallery.
Despite knowing for weeks that the Occupy Vancouver encampment was coming, the NPA have been relatively quiet up until a few days ago. Mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton perhaps sensing she may have finally found her campaign issue has now come out swinging - sort of.
Here is what she told 24 Hours Vancouver:
Gregor has said they can stay as long as they want. Like the riot, this was decided on the back of a napkin in the mayor’s office.
The NPA also posted the following statement on their website:
NPA Candidate for Mayor Suzanne Anton is calling on Gregor Robertson to answer questions about time lines and the growing cost of policing relating to the ever-expanding tent city that has been set up in front of the Vancouver at the Art Gallery.
“Vancouver taxpayers are not an endless source of funds,” Anton said. “As Mayor and Police Board Chair, Gregor Robertson needs to tell taxpayers what this tent city is costing us. The police chief has said that the extra policing is hurting the police budget.”
At the same time, the general public has lost use of the Art Gallery plaza, and local hotels and businesses are suffering.
During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Anton asked a number of questions about the city’s handling of the Art Gallery tent city which Robertson refused to answer or debate:
- Is the city failing to enforce established city bylaws regarding the construction of structures on public land?
- How much is it costing taxpayers each day to police and service this site since Saturday?
- How long is the Mayor prepared to allow this tent city to exist?
“When will this public space be returned to the public?” asks Anton.
This story continues to change by the day and we'll keep you posted with any new developments.