The cells within the 40-year-old Prince Rupert RCMP building are expected to be renovated this year to meet national standards. (Mitchell Haindfield photo)

City struggles to meet RCMP demands to improve facilities

Prince Rupert’s cells being retrofitted while process continues for new $30M RCMP building

Police in Prince Rupert are operating out of a 40-year-old building, where prisoners are kept in jail cells that don’t meet national standards, and where files are kept off site due to a lack of storage space.

In documents obtained by the Northern View under the Access to Information Act, the “detachment is suffering from a critical shortage of work space and, as such, lacks the functional space or room to accommodate current operational needs.”

READ MORE: City asks for public’s input on budget

To function properly a new RCMP detachment is needed, and the estimated cost is $30 million. But a new facility will take years to build. In the City of Prince Rupert’s Proposed Five-Year Financial Plan — which the city voted to adopt on Monday, April 23 — it estimates the new RCMP facility will be built and in service by 2023.

The Band-Aid solution in the interim is to retrofit the jail to meet national standards, costing the city $524,000.

Notice letters

The letters began in 2011. In July of that year, the Commanding Officer for the B.C. RCMP division wrote a formal letter to the City of Prince Rupert requesting the municipality replace the outdated building.

After preliminary discussions, but no action, the RCMP sent a formal notice in July 2014, addressed to city manager, Robert Long. This time, the letter was more pressing — correct the deficiencies within two years.

In 2014, the letter listed some of the issues: there were two RCMP staff working out of another location due to lack of space, concluded operational files were kept off site and for police to access them they had to travel to another building. “To do so is neither effective nor efficient,” the letter stated.

Another issue is the parking for employees and police vehicles is not secure, and there isn’t enough space to install security fencing.

One of the biggest issues is the jail cells. The cells don’t meet RCMP standards that were established “to reduce or eliminate potential hanging points, inhibit weapons fabrication and improve monitoring capabilities.”

The city is responsible for the detachment through the Municipal Police Unit Agreement. If the city fails to cooperate, the RCMP is within its right to build its own station and send the city the bill.

Cell block retrofit

Last year, progress was made between the city and RCMP.

In a letter addressed to Mayor Lee Brain, on May 11, 2017, the RCMP thanked the city for taking steps to acquire land for the new detachment and agreeing to renovate the cell block as an “interim measure” until the new building is constructed.

READ MORE: If we don’t build it, they will Neish says

“The renovation of the other cell block is anticipated to be complete by April 2018,” the letter from the Commanding Officer stated.

Now, a year later, while renovation costs have been approved by the city, the developments are not complete.

“There have been some unanticipated operational delays with completing the cell block improvements, which are associated with construction within an RCMP detachment. Programming around functionality is a sensitive issue because it is a cell block. There has been significant liaising between the architect and RCMP property division to create the construction specifications required to complete the mandated upgrades,” said Veronika Stewart, communications manager for the city, in an email.

Funding a new RCMP station

Where the current station is located doesn’t allow for expansion, and it needs to be relocated. There is no clear-cut option for how the city is going to pay for the construction of a $30-million RCMP building.

Prince Rupert isn’t the only municipality faced with footing the bill of a new RCMP facility. Fort St. John’s RCMP building is 35 years old, and can no longer accommodate growth for the city with a population of more than 20,000 people. Renovations were too expensive, leading council to go ahead with a $43-million rebuild.

In Feb. 2018, the city of Fort St. John started the bidding process for a design for the new detachment. Funding for the project will go through annual lease payments, grants, capital reserves, as well as using funding from the Peace River Agreement, a $50-million oil and gas benefits fund available to northeastern municipalities.

How the City of Prince Rupert plans to pay for the RCMP building is less certain — as its based on the District of Port Edward renegotiating the Ridley Island Tax Sharing Agreement established in 1981.

“Council and staff hope to divert the Ridley Island Tax Sharing agreement funds paid to the District of Port Edward entirely toward the cost of the new RCMP detachment. This would translate into no additional cost to city taxpayers, who currently bear the primary burden of regional service provision,” the document states.

READ MORE: Ridley Island taxation sharing temporarily solved

The tax sharing agreement has cost the City of Prince Rupert $675,000 a year since 2013, as stated in the April 2018 report from the Small Business Advisory Committee. The city estimates the annual debt cost of the new RCMP building will be $700,000 a year.

Port Edward has consistently refused to renegotiate the tax sharing agreement, yet the district relies on RCMP services to keep the peace in its community. The burden, may then, fall on Prince Rupert taxpayers, once the facility is finally built.

 

shannon.lough@thenorthernview.com 

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