EDITORIAL: Toothless bylaws

How much use are bylaws if there's limited enforcement?

It’s one thing to create a raft of well-meaning bylaws for the community’s books.

Enforcement of said bylaws is an entirely different matter.

The City of Parksville, for example, is close to creating a bylaw that spells out the fines structure for people who don’t adhere to water restrictions. Everything water related is under the microscope during these drought conditions and some residents have expressed anger — and called the city to complain — after watching their neighbours wash their vehicles or power wash a driveway for hours.

City council gave three readings this week to a bylaw that would empower an officer to impose a $100 fine on a resident who is in contravention of water restrictions. Dismiss for now the fact a $100 fine is not much of a deterrent.

Traditionally in Parksville, city councils have directed staff to stress compliance rather than punishment for bylaw infractions (except parking apparently, but that’s a different story for a different time). In other words, bylaw officers are supposed to do the Canadian thing and be nice to those who many be in contravention of a bylaw, give them a warning and some literature instead of an immediate ticket. One specific sign bylaw infraction has been on the books in this city without serious enforcement action for seven years, for example.

So, for starters, that direction needs to change, especially in relation to water-use violations.

Then there’s the staffing issue. The city has one bylaw enforcement officer. That person works days, Monday to Friday and presumably has weeks of vacation time. There’s talk using other staff as members of some “water patrol” for the new bylaw, but those people won’t likely work past 4:30 p.m. or on the weekends.

Council had the opportunity to add a bylaw officer in recent budget talks but declined. One reaps what one sows.

If council changed its direction on bylaw enforcement, could the officer generate enough ticket revenue to pay for another officer? Not likely.

On the surface, it seems council is creating bylaws or defining fine structures to make themselves feel like they are actually doing something.

In reality, council is doing nothing about the problem, except perhaps setting the table for a future council that might actually have the courage of its convictions.

— Editorial by John Harding