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Nanaimo council chooses more expensive 911 contract

The City of Nanaimo will contract 911 services to the RCMP, despite a much-cheaper alternative.

Nanaimo city councillors voted 7-2 in February to sign a five-year memorandum of understanding with the RCMP to provide 911 services, according to recently released in-camera documents.

The contract will cost the Central Island 911 partnership, which includes Nanaimo, Cowichan Valley Regional District and Nanaimo Regional District, $745,000. Nanaimo’s share will be $335,250, with the potential for additional costs if the RCMP needs to upgrade software – a move that could cost up to a half-million dollars.

According to city staff, Nanaimo had to reconsider how 911 service is provided after the RCMP advised in September the function is no longer part of its core business and would be terminated without a five-year contract and payment of a new management fee. The RCMP had been providing the service since 1994.

The ultimatum had the city – and other B.C. communities whose 911 was handled by the RCMP – mulling alternatives like Vancouver-based E-Comm 911.

The call answer service has already been picked up by regional districts like Fraser-Fort George, Cariboo and Kitimat-Stikine as an alternative to the provincial operational communications centre. It takes the initial call before sending it to local dispatch and is considerably cheaper, according to staff members who favoured the shift to the company.

E-Comm would have cost the partnership $280,000 and the city $126,000, without future software costs or losses to local jobs. Positions would have been cut through attrition.

Councillors George Anderson and Bill McKay, who both voted against going with the RCMP, said the option meant cost savings without risks to service. Money saved could have gone toward other expenses.

But those who decided to go with the status quo had concerns about the effect outsourcing could have on CUPE negotiations, the loss of geographic knowledge and time to consider alternatives.

“Sometimes there’s more to things than just money,” said Coun. Fred Pattje, who voted to stay with the RCMP. “There is no doubt E-Comm is cheaper. The truth of the matter is we are dealing with a union, CUPE, whose members would be affected by it.”

The RCMP officially served notice it would terminate the provision of 911 services last September, although staff members say the ultimatum was first broached a year ago. Nanaimo has always paid for the 911 system, which amounted to $632,064 in 2013, but the RCMP managed it through its operational communications centre at no charge, according to Mike Dietrich, the city’s manager of police support services.

Now the RCMP says the service is not part of its multimillion-dollar policing contract and the city and its partners should pay to have them manage the operation.

With the potential for cost savings, however, Anderson says he feels it would have been a better decision to turn over the service to E-Comm. There would have been no job losses and the city could reduce the costs of its 911 system, he said.

“In our budget process we have talked about spending money wisely and making sure we are providing high levels of service ... and in this case, council has made a decision that provides less service for much more money and that’s a concern to me,” Anderson said.

McKay also doesn’t understand why the city didn’t choose cost savings, especially with a purchasing policy that encourages the city to go local only if quality, service and price are the same. In this case, the city could have seen “significant savings” but opted not to go with an outside contract.

“What’s our thinking? If it’s our own employees, even though we can save hundreds by going somewhere else, we will stay?” McKay said.

Coun. Diana Johnstone said she decided to stay with the RCMP to keep jobs local and maintain geographic knowledge, which she saw as a safety issue.

The memorandum of understanding has a one-year exit clause. Staff will review other options.

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