A pilot program designed to help increase safety downtown may soon become a permanent fixture on Saskatoon streets.
The Planning, Development and Community Services Committee will meet Tuesday to decide whether or not to recommend the Community Support Program to city council.
The two-year pilot program was launched to increase community outreach and bylaw enforcement, specifically of loitering and panhandling.
“It stems from maintaining a little more decorum on the street for a lot of the costumers, business people, employees and residents who are there all the time,” Riversdale Business Improvement District (BID) director Randy Pshebylo said.
Five uniformed officers patrol the Downtown, Riversdale and Broadway BID, respond to calls and work with businesses, residents and community support organizations.
Officers responded to 1,447 calls from July 2014 to June this year, up from 977 from July 2013 to June 2014, and handed out 89 tickets last year, up from 21 the year before. Pshebylo said the officers were encouraged to help those on the street find the help the needed, and would use ticketing as a last resort if bad behaviour continued.
The vast majority of calls ended successfully – with people getting the supports they need – and with the officers giving information rather than warnings or tickets.
In the past, some councillors were worried the program duplicated services that police already provided while others balked at the idea of using parking meter money to fund the $450,000-a-year program.
An annual report on the program said 90 per cent of 357 businesses surveyed wanted the program to be permanent.
Pshebylo said he believes the program has helped many residents. He pointed to an example where a man was found passed out in the snow and officers helped him get home.
“We just need to find the proper funding model to reflect the fact that it’s not just located in the BIDs but it serves the entire city,” he said. “So there needs to be some acknowledgment that the parking meter revenue that goes to subsidize the mill rate should be targeted towards funding the program.”
However, councillors like Pat Lorje use the same reasoning to come to different conclusions about where funding should come from. Lorje said the program benefits all of Saskatoon, and therefore the funding should come from general tax revenue.
“It’s a program that will benefit everyone who goes shopping in this city basically,” she said, adding the parking meter fund is already used to fund urban landscaping and the BIDs.
Lorje said the program has encountered challenges but declined to comment on how it could be improved.
Sixty-nine per cent of businesses surveyed said they would support paying for the program with tax dollars.
Despite the Riversdale BID applauding the program, public perception of safety in the downtown area dropped two percentage points to 87 per cent from two years ago. The Insightrix online survey was done in April and had 627 respondents. The survey does not have a scientific margin of error.