Victim services threatened

Victim services in Burns Lake may contract without funding increase.

The Police Victims Service of B.C. (PVS) is the front-line civilian organization that works with local police forces to provide aid and care to the victims of crime or severe trauma.

The role of PVS often begins at a crime or accident scene, and continues through to following cases as they proceed through the courts, keeping victims informed and up-to-date of court proceedings.

Police Victim Services is not a version of legal aid. It doesn’t assist with the cases of those accused of perpetrating a crime. Its mandate is to provide support to the victims of those crimes.

Province-wide, PVS relies on staff and volunteers to run its 92 service locations in B.C.

In Burns Lake, the victim services unit is staffed by one full-time staffer, Cindy Wiebe, and a temporary assistant. Because of limited resources, PVS in Burns Lake does not participate in police call-outs or in the public education role that PVS plays in larger urban centres.

Wiebe recently made a presentation to Village of Burns Lake (VBL) council in support of expanding funding to the Burns Lake PVS.

Since January 2012 PVS has worked with 233 clients on 275 different files, mostly assisting in court-related processes. Burns Lake PVS has attended criminal court every time it is in session in Burns Lake, seven days a month, and attends supreme court in Smithers with clients.

The Village of Burns Lake currently funds the program with $13,638 annually. The province funds another $42,672, leaving $56,310 annually, which is completely consumed by payroll, benefit, program expense and training costs.

The PVS office is currently open four days per week, six hours each day. Demands on PVS sometimes means that Wiebe is forced into an overtime situation. When the demands of PVS extend beyond budgeted hours, PVS is forced close its doors while staff take time off in lieu of overtime pay.

A one-time funding opportunity allowed Wiebe to hire an assistant co-ordinator, but funding for that position will run out this December.

With a permanent assistant co-ordinator, PVS in Burns Lake could provide more services, like regular visits to the Southside Wellness Centre to serve clients there who lack transportation to Burns Lake.

A large percentage of PVS clients are rural-based, although the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako (RDBN) does not contribute anything to the PVS budget.

In 2012, almost 40 per cent of PVS clients were from either Area E or B. So far in 2013, 44 per cent of clients have been from those areas as well.

With the budget for PVS already constrained, VBL council is concerned that  the village tax base is subsidizing services for the region.

“The RDBN should split the cost,” Frank Varga, VBL councillor said. “It’s not fair to have the village tax base subsidizing rural areas.”

The RDBN only recently became aware of the statistics presented to council on Oct. 23, and initial talks between the VBL and RDBN directors of areas E and B have suggested a possible future cost sharing.

Mayor Luke Strimbold told council the RDBN was considering a top-up of the village contribution from $13,638 to $20,000, although talks with the RDBN are in preliminary stages and no proposal has been brought forward yet to the RDBN board of directors.

The extra $6,362 would not be enough for Burns Lake PVS to maintain a permanent assistant, and with the termination of that position, available service levels will decline.

Burns Lake PVS would need $30,831 annually to fund a permanent assistant. This is in addition to the $13,638 the village already contributes, bringing the annual total required to $44,469 beyond what the ministry of justice currently provides.

 

The village supports working with the RDBN, or other agencies, to fund Burns Lake PVS with a permanent assistant.

 

 

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