People in Glace Bay and Sydney Mines say a scourge of arson and graffiti is crippling the Cape Breton communities and deterring businesses.

Jim Tobin, a Sydney Mines resident, said graffiti is a problem in his community.

"Vandalism. Pure and straight vandalism. There's no art to damaging people's property," he said.

Tobin said almost every business on Main Street has been sprayed with paint.

"We are prisoners in our own town. We can't do nothing. We can't attract business people, can't keep their properties clean because of the damage and vandalism that's going on," he said.

"People are just disheartened. You can't sell a house in Sydney Mines, nobody wants to live here anymore."

Glenn Burton, owner of Burton's Flooring for 24 years, said it's hard to attract customers when his building has been tagged.

"It's quite an expense to the community and the business community. I would say damages in our community right now are in an excess of $100,000," he said.

Burton suggested more police and tougher penalties for young offenders might make a difference.

"There has to be consequences for your actions," he said.

Tobin said people need to take back their town.

"I would like to see people in Sydney Mines stand up like we did years ago," he said. "Don't let people take our town away from us, especially a bunch of punks."

134 arsons in two years

According to the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, there were 134 cases of arson in the municipality in 2012 and 2013.

By comparison, the Halifax Regional Municipality — which has roughly 300,000 more people than the Cape Breton Regional Municipality — had 169 arson cases in the same time period.

Jim Taylor, chief of the Glace Bay Fire Department and a police officer, said insurance fraud is one of the main motivations for arson in the municipality.

He said it usually involves people buying vacant, run-down buildings.

"You may pay anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000 for it — are insured for well over $250,000, $300,000. Part of the problem being, at one time, insurance companies would come out and look at the properties being insured and companies from away out west are now insuring these properties and never ever see them," said Taylor.

"What happens is, down the road, these buildings burn."

Taylor said part of the problem is the large number of vacant buildings in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

Regional council is trying to address the vacant building problem by working on a new plan to tear down or refurbish buildings in the CBRM.