One opinion was voiced loud and clear Oct. 15 at a public meeting in Wolfville: keep the RCMP office in town.
Almost every seat set up for a public hearing at Wolfville’s fire hall was filled, and the opinions expressed seemed unanimous.
Residents spoke openly about their opposition to displacing in-town RCMP members to make room for community development staff.
Many spoke in favour of local RCMP members staying in the Wolfville office, rather than being moved to the Kings District RCMP detachment in New Minas.
Council budgeted $50,000 earlier this year to modify the RCMP space for use by town staff and budgeted $200,000 to renovate the public works and community development building.
The matter is the third time council sought public opinion on a potential plan to move community development offices into the RCMP space.
This was floated as an alternative to upgrading the public works and community development building — a project estimated to cost up to $500,000.
Wolfville resident Marnie Parker stressed the importance of the presence of law enforcement in Wolfville.
“The population of Wolfville pretty much doubles with the students’ arrival,” said Parker, referring to Acadia University. “I think presence of RCMP here is certainly mandatory. Presence is everything.”
Parker, and several other residents, voiced concerns about potential changes in response times. She said every minute counts in a matter of life and death.
“Whether they are in Gaspereau or wherever they are, 20 minutes might make quite a difference,” she said. “Five minutes is going to make quite a difference (rather) than 20 minutes.”
A former real estate agent, Parker said the strength of the local RCMP presence is something prospective buyers consider.
Other guests echoed Parker’s concerns about response times, and perceived consequences that could arise.
“I feel like this is tail wagging the dog. This is a discussion about buildings and spaces, and somehow it’s become about the police,” said resident Doug Lutz. “So, the council discussion is not about policing. It’s about the spaces and renovation costs. That’s wrong. For that reason alone, I think this is misdirected.”
Lutz said the RCMP space is designed for police and, “when it’s gone, it’s gone. So, if we ever want to have a local police force, we’ll need a building.”
Many residents insisted that keeping the RCMP office in Wolfville is worth the cost of renovating Town Hall.
“Sometimes when you’re doing a cost-benefit analysis, it’s not always about the money,” said Wolfville resident Janet Roberts. “There are a lot of things more important in life than money. I think having the RCMP in town is a wise expenditure.”
Council later voted against moving town staff into the RCMP space. Councillors Mercedes Brian, Wendy Donovan and Oonagh Proudfoot stated they would have preferred a more evidence-based and fiscally-minded decision but acknowledged the strong public opposition.
“I was very much in favour of the RCMP moving to New Minas but, since then, I have decided that I will be changing my mind,” said Coun. Carl Oldham.
Oldham said that in the two weeks preceding the Oct. 15 public hearing, he listened to the concerns of residents, and their insistence moved him to change his mind.
Council subsequently committed an additional $250,000 to the community development and public works facility for upgrades and renovations to make the ground floor accessible, and provide additional office space for staff.
Town council first looked into the idea of moving public works and community development staff into the RCMP space in 2017.