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City of Nanaimo expanding grant program for vandalism prevention downtown

Concerns about ways downtown businesses can harden themselves against crime raises debate
Window bars, installed inside windows of the Vault Café, preserve the look of the buildings original wood casings and have deterred vandalism and break-ins that plagued the business prior to their installation. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo businesses will be able to cash in on more money for vandalism relief more often and also get assistance to prevent future vandalism and break-ins.

At a meeting Dec. 18, Nanaimo city council directed staff to boost the downtown vandalism relief grant program to allow businesses to apply for funding more than twice in a calendar year and receive up to $2,500 per vandalism incident up to a maximum of $5,000 in a calendar year, which could also include covering 50 per cent of up to $1,000 toward crime prevention measures.

The vandalism relief grant program was created in 2022 and is managed for the city by the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce for a 15 per cent administration fee. Grant funding of $50,000 was provided in 2022 followed by $30,000 per year from 2023 to the end of 2026.

Monday’s council decision stemmed from a motion put forward by Coun. Hilary Eastmure in the spring asking for staff to report back to council with options to expand the grant fund to allow businesses to apply for more vandalism relief more often.

Dave LaBerge, the city’s director of bylaw services, reported to council that 24 grants to 20 different businesses have been approved since the inception of the program last December, with $24,550 dispersed. About half of the grants dispersed were for the full $1,000 amount and the city paid $2,400 to a contractor for graffiti removal downtown.

The city also consulted with the RCMP for data on numbers of break-ins and locations, which showed from January 2022 to April 2023, businesses in the city were broken into or vandalized 395 times. Of those, 131 happened in the downtown core.

Consultation with the chamber, LaBerge said, also revealed that some communities additionally provide grant money to businesses to proactively improve security with surveillance cameras, safety audits, gating or security patrols. Victoria pays for 50 per cent the cost of security upgrades up to $1,000. The province has also announced $10.5 million in funding in vandalism relief for small businesses.

Eastmure put forward a motion to allow businesses to apply for vandalism prevention upgrades costs.

“I like this option because it does include, potentially, assisting with the installation of security and preventative measures and … I recognize several local downtown businesses have done that already and I think it’s made a difference,” she said.

Coun. Paul Manly supported the motion.

“I’m glad to hear that there’s a provincial program for other businesses and, just recognizing that we’re talking about one third of the vandalism is happening in a tiny section of a very large community, it’s a high impact,” he said.

Councillors Tyler Brown and Ben Geselbracht raised concerns about how vandalism prevention measures might impact the downtown landscape. Coun. Erin Hemmens, considering the prospect of how provincial money also being applied by businesses to harden properties might impact downtown, withdrew her support for the option.

“What I worry about here is that, rather than using the program for vandalism relief for downtown businesses, which was the original intention, we could tomorrow have 20 applications for businesses that want gating at their front door … cameras don’t necessarily prevent it, so really … if it’s that hard infrastructure, which is fencing and gates, which I don’t want any more of … I won’t support,” Hemmens said.

Coun. Ian Thorpe said all he saw in the option was allowing businesses to apply for grants more often from an increased pot of money.

Eastmure said she recognizes concerns around making the downtown appear “more hostile” but pointed to businesses that have been targets of vandalism that have put bars in their windows.

“I was concerned that that would look terrible. I think it looks fine,” Eastmure said. “There has been a cost associated with doing that for those businesses, but it’s helped. We had a business, the Vault, that had numerous window breakages and break-ins and they put the bars in the window. They still look classy and they haven’t had the same issues since.”

The motion passed with Mayor Leonard Krog and councillors Hemmens, Armstrong and Brown opposed.

READ ALSO: City of Nanaimo will explore expanding access to downtown vandalism relief fund

Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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