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vancouver protest

Members of the Vancouver fire department inspect for fire safety at the Occupy Vancouver site Vancouver Art Gallery Nov. 15, 2011.John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The Occupy Vancouver protest has cost the city $560,398 so far, but won't be a big hit to city finances because expenses are being covered by a contingency budget with room to accommodate increases, the chair of the city's finance committee says.

Raymond Louie, also a Vision Vancouver councillor seeking a new term in this weekend's municipal election, said the tally is based on a $1,000-per-day cost to the city for the protest, added to the $543,398 estimate released by city staff as of Oct. 31.

"It will not be a catastrophic event to the city's budget. Beyond what's being reported now, I don't expect the costs to rise significantly," he said Wednesday as the rival Non-Partisan Association challenged Mayor Gregor Robertson to come clean on protest costs.

Mr. Louie acknowledged the $560,398 was a "large sum" the city would have preferred not to spend, but said it is obviously a necessary expense.

He said the city had a $4-million annual contingency reserve for unexpected circumstances that was down to $2-million by the time the Occupy Vancouver camp went up on the north plaza of the Vancouver Art Gallery in mid-October.

Mr. Louie said Wednesday that ongoing costs have been embedded into the daily operations of the city.

"There's no extra cost attached because we have managed within the existing staff complement the necessary staff to manage the site," he said. He would be surprised, he added, if there is any overtime because staff are managing the site within regular deployment hours. "There hasn't been an ongoing expenditure beyond $1,000 a day," he said.

Debate over the costs came as Suzanne Anton, the NPA candidate for mayor, disputed the $1,000-a-day figure and suggested the cost of the protest must now be more than $1-million. She called on Mr. Robertson to come clean.

"If [Mr. Robertson]doesn't know, he's incompetent. If he does know, he should be saying," Ms. Anton told The Globe and Mail's editorial board. She described the $1-million figure as a "ballpark" estimate.

In an interview with the editorial board earlier this week, Mr. Robertson said he did not have an updated figure beyond the $543,398 presented to council on Oct. 27, and encouraged a call to the city's media-relations department. It did not have a specific figure.

Ms. Anton told The Globe she expected the cost of the protest "will blow a hole in the city's budget for 2011" – a contention Mr. Louie disputed.

"Because we have worked hard to ensure that costs are managed within existing budgets since that first large event, I don't expect it to blow any hole," he said.

Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu declined to release specific new Occupy-related costs to his department, but said the force would do its best to make its budget given the Occupy demands.

"We have officers redeployed from other duties to monitor the Occupy situation," he said Wednesday. "At this point, we're not seeking additional funding."

He said patrol resources are being deployed as required. "If some emergency happens," he said, "the officers may leave the scene and go to the call and then come back to the situation at Occupy. That can occur."

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