St. John’s graffiti cleanup costs rising

Daniel MacEachern
Published on April 27, 2014
Graffiti shows up frequently under overpasses in the St. John’s metro area, such as this one located on Thorburn Road. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

While St. John’s considers ways to combat graffiti, the amount the city must spend to clean it up is going up.

In 2010 — the oldest year figures are available — the city spent $18,118 removing graffiti from city property.

In 2013, the amount was $34,695. St. John’s Coun. Tom Hann says graffiti is a growing problem, and one costing the city more money each year. The figures provided only include amounts paid to a contractor hired to clean up graffiti, and not labour done by city employees, such as painting over tags or sanding away graffiti carved into wooden benches and signs.

“We’ve gone from $18,000 a year in 2010 up to $34,600 in 2013, so obviously that points to something. There’s either an increase in the size of graffiti on buildings or there’s an increase in incidents,” said Hann. “What you have to look at is do we ask the courts to be more proactive in terms of sentencing or are there other ways we can look at it? Some other communities have found that they’re going to other agencies and trying to talk to people who do this and work out some solution in terms of educating and trying to get them not to do it.”

Other options the city is considering are providing more public canvases for legitimate artists, as opposed to taggers, to paint, and becoming more involved in court cases involving vandals.

“If you submit a victim impact statement, then that may have some influence on the outcome of the courts,” said Hann.

Mount Pearl Mayor Randy Simms couldn’t say for sure how much Mount Pearl spends on graffiti cleanup, because it’s all done by city workers and falls under general labour costs, but he estimated the city spends between $8,000 and $12,000 annually on cleaning up what he called a “blight on the community.”

The figure Simms knows for sure is $150,000: that’s the amount the city is spending on a special cleanup blitz in 2014 to fight graffiti and litter.

“We’re going to dedicate crews specifically to doing cleanup of litter, and we’re going to put a strategy in place this spring to try and wipe out all the graffiti and all the tagging that’s going on,” he said. “We’re going to follow the St. John’s lead, quite frankly, which I think is a brilliant one, and look at painting (electrical) boxes around, putting artwork on them. … Real graffiti artists are real artists, and they won’t destroy a beautiful picture. They’ll try to make one. These people running around tagging stuff, they might as well be smashing windows in your house.”

Simms said Mount Pearl council hasn’t yet discussed the possibility of providing victim impact statements to court, but he thinks it’s a great idea, and pointed to three recent vandals who were given suspended or conditional sentences for vandalizing public property.

“I didn’t mind the conditional sentence. It’s petty vandalism. You don’t want to lock him up for life. I get it,” said Simms. “You’ve got to have some balance. But there should be some restitution for the victims, and in this instance, the victims happened to be the people of the city. It’s their tax dollars that gotta go out and clean this up.”


 Annual amount spent by St. John’s to remove graffiti from city property

2010 — $18,118*

2011 — $19,420

2012 — $34,315

2013 — $34,695

(*Figure is from July to December, but city officials note the bulk of graffiti cleanup begins in the summer)