- OES students tackle schoolyard dog poop problemPosted 24 mins ago
- GMO foods dangerous, pervasive, former federal scientists tell forumPosted 24 mins ago
- Former Stockwell Day assistant Neufeld will seek federal Conservative nominationPosted 28 mins ago
- Christmas Lite-Up events feature Santa Parade and entertainmentPosted 31 mins ago
- Vancouver pharmaceutical company applies for license to operate commercial medical pot facility in OsoyoosPosted 34 mins ago
- School support staff prepared to walk picket lines starting Tuesday morningPosted 6 days ago
- Osoyoos stores open, close, move, change handsPosted 1 week ago
- Travel writer names Okanagan as world’s top wine destinationPosted 1 week ago
- Local leaders respond with caution to possible changes to modernize Agricultural Land CommissionPosted 1 week ago
Policing costs and discussions over possible amalgamation between town and rural residents highlight talks at UBCM conference
The high costs of policing and preliminary discussions about possible amalgamation between the Town of Osoyoos and rural residents were the two most important topics discussed by Mayor Stu Wells and provincial leaders during last week’s Union of British Columbia (UBCM) conference in Vancouver.
Due to the high costs involved, Wells was joined by town councillor Mike Plante at this year’s conference, as opposed to last year when Wells and all four members of council attended the 2012 conference in Victoria.
With the Town of Osoyoos expected to have its policing costs escalate rapidly following the next national census in 2016, Wells said policing costs remained at the forefront of talks by several municipal leaders during this year’s UBCM conference.
Municipalities that have more than 5,000 residents are forced, under provincial legislation, to pay 70 per cent of policing costs as opposed to only 30 per cent for those municipalities with less than 5,000 residents, said Wells.
“All signs indicate we’re going to pass the dreaded 5,000 following the next census … and this is going to have serious financial ramifications in our community and a lot of other communities in the province that are closing in on that 5,000 figure.”
Municipalities across the province continue to pressure the government to provide more funding to pay for policing costs, but those pleas have fallen on deaf ears for many years, said Wells.
The unfunded pension liability issue relating to the RCMP in B.C. is also “extremely scary” and may result in serious financial strains on municipalities that are already struggling with serious financial challenge, said Wells.
“The cost of the having the RCMP and this unfunded pension liability certainly raises a lot of questions and a lot of challenges for the smaller communities spread across the province,” he said. “Peachland recently went through this process and it resulted in additional costs of $700,000 per year in additional policing costs.
“They had put away some money for a rainy day knowing they were approaching the 5,000 in population … and we took some steps last year to start doing the same, but it still represents a major challenge for our community in the coming years.”
One “ray of hope” relating to policing costs at the conference came from the City of Vancouver, which recently approved the hiring of a large number of community safety officers, said Wells.
“These officers would be something between a bylaw officer and police officer, but they would take a heavy burden off of the duties of regular police at a much lower cost,” he said. “The leadership within the RCMP appears to be willing to at least listen to this proposal, which provides a slight ray of light for municipalities. This will be pursued further in the coming months.”
Several communities, including Osoyoos, have also held “very preliminary talks” to discuss the potential of possible amalgamation with rural residents, said Wells.
“Preliminary talks were held to discuss what this would look like and key issues … like a more equitable way of sharing some of the costs involved,” he said.
There are numerous municipalities across, including Oliver, that are initiating discussions relating to possible amalgamation of towns and rural communities, said Wells.
This would not happen without a referendum to allow residents themselves to have the final say on the municipal government structure they prefer, he said.
“Like I said, these are very initial steps and it would take several years for any significant change to occur, but many municipal leaders feel it’s worth looking at,” he said.
Wells said there are arguments for and against amalgamation, but he believes having the residents from the town and regional district represented by one government has more benefits than negatives.
Wells cites the fact members of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS) board voted on the proposal several years ago to build 1,200 condo units at Willow Beach and Osoyoos town council and local residents had no say on the largest potential development project in the history of the South Okanagan.
“Even though the project never took place, it was very frustrating to know we had elected officials from Tulameen voting on this proposed development and our local council didn’t have any say at all,” said Wells. “A situation like that could come back to happen again as long as we have separate representation for the people in town and those in the rural areas.”
Another piece of good news from the conference was continued progress by the “Highway 3 coalition” made up of municipal leaders from the Alberta border to Hope insisting the provincial government provide funding to improve one of the province’s busiest highways, said Wells.
“This is one of the worst stretches of highway in the province,” he said. “But this past summer there have been major improvements on the highway near Princeton with seven or eight kilometres turned into four lanes during Phase One this past summer and three more phases already approved in the provincial budget.
“The final total is roughly $45 million and that will really help improve this long stretch of highway that is used by so many of us in this part of the province.”
Many corridors along Hwy. 3 are being “three-laned” with passing lanes added only in one direction and the coalition is going to continue to push for more improvements so four-laning takes place, he said.
“If they’re going to do it, they should do it right,” he said.
Wells and Plante also met with Interior Health Authority officials to discuss the possibility of opening a hospice in Osoyoos to allow for end-of-life care in this community, said Wells.
“We have one location that would be ideal for a possible six-bed hospice … talks with Interior Health will continue,” he said.
Because of the exorbitant costs involved, Wells said he doesn’t foresee all members of council attending the UBCM conference in the future.
“As the mayor, I have to go,” he said. “Because of the costs involved, I can foresee us sending the mayor and one councillor on a rotating basis in the future.”
There were 2,000 municipal delegates registered for this year’s conference.
Premier Christy Clark and 16 cabinet ministers also attended.