Volunteer-based organizations concerned about losing Sask.’s fine option program

The government’s decision to scale back the provincial fine option program has some community-based organizations worried.

The fine option program allows people to pay traffic and parking tickets through hours of community service.

“We rely very heavily on fine options to come in with volunteers who are working off traffic and parking fine tickets,” Tracey Mazur, Habitat for Humanity’s acting CEO, said.

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“Last year alone, the 2016/2017 year, it was over 1200 volunteer hours that we had from fine options and really what it equates to if we were paying minimum wage, which we don’t, is over $18,000 worth of wage payments,” she added.

By reducing the availability of the fine option program for people who have traffic violations, the government wants to save more than a million dollars. It argues less than half of those who register for the program actually complete it.

“They’re supposed to be held to task, but the way that the program works is that we’re not always made aware of those people that don’t complete,” Justice Minister Gordon Wyant said.

“There’s going to be some consequences to some [community-based organizations], but I think returning to the original intent of the program is appropriate. We are going to keep an eye on the effect and our community-based organizations. We do value the work that they do within the communities, but again, if people aren’t completing the work, then I’m not sure that the value to the province is there.”

People in the fine option program usually average 30 to 40 hours at Habitat for Humanity, Mazur said.

She also said it isn’t common for people to miss their shifts.

“We have forms that we fill out so the government and the John Howard Society can keep track, and we certainly submit those forms, but we’ve certainly had very low to no problems with that at all,” she said.

According to the John Howard Society, which manages fine options, more than 27,000 hours of community service helped pay off 1,300 fines in Regina alone last year.

Many of those volunteers actually return to help out after all fines are paid, Mazur said.

“When you look at what they’re looking at as a cost savings, it’s peanuts compared to what the community impact is,” Mazur said.

The changes are expected to take effect July 1.

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