Town will ask province for more information about possible boundary expansion into RDOS

By on February 19, 2014

Town of Osoyoos council is going to accept an offer from the provincial government to provide information about the implications and costs of possibly expanding the town’s municipal boundaries into the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS).

As Mayor Stu Wells and several councillors commented on during council’s committee of the whole meeting Monday, receiving this information doesn’t mean any significant changes are forthcoming any time soon.

However, receiving information about potential expansion of the town boundaries into the RDOS can’t hurt and will provide members of council with valuable information moving forward, said Wells.

“We shouldn’t be afraid of receiving information,” said Wells.

Wells, on behalf of council, sent a letter to the provincial government in October regarding possible boundary expansion into the RDOS.

Coralee Oakes, B.C.’s Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, responded with a written reply to that letter, which was discussed by members of council on Monday.

In her letter, Oakes wrote, “I recognize that the Town has a strong interest in moving expeditiously to a boundary that seems less arbitrary in the face of today’s challenges.

“At the time your boundary was set, however, it was not arbitrary and would have considered the desires and electoral consent of the community at that time.”

Wells, along with town councillor Mike Plante, Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes and local MLA Linda Larson, met with Oakes at October’s Union of B.C. Municipaluties (UBCM) conference last fall to discuss expansion of municipal boundaries to include all of the surrounding electoral area.

As Wells explained Monday, other communities in the South Okanagan, including Summerland, have formed a municipal district as part of expanding town boundaries.

There’s no doubt expanding town boundaries into the RDOS would create some controversy for town and rural residents and that’s why it’s important to reiterate this request is about gathering information and nothing imminent will happen any time soon, said Wells.

Oakes, in her letter, said expanding the municipal boundary to include all of the surrounding electoral area, “is not a small boundary change; it would be a fundamental reconstruction of the municipality.

“The implications of that sort of restructure are significant and it does not seem prudent to proceed in the same manner as one would with a small boundary adjustment.”

The current process used by the provincial government, that includes study and community engagement, has evolved over time to ensure both the proponent municipality and the broader community have a clear understanding of the current situation and the benefits and costs associated with making a change, said Oakes.

“I am not comfortable considering boundary changes on the scale you describe without knowing that the town council understands the responsibilities and costs involved or without hearing from the affected rural residents,” wrote Oakes.

Oakes offered members of council to follow up with the Governance and Structure Branch of her ministry and to further discuss ramifications with Marijek Edmondson, the director of local government structure.

“Ms. Edmondson and her staff can provide the information that you need and can also provide information on smaller-scale alternatives and configuration of service arrangements that may assist you in reducing the disincentives to electoral area residents to join the municipality,” she said.

Any request by council to request support for a restructuring study would have to be clear as to which municipalities in the electoral area would be subject to the proposed study.

The request must also indicate:

What planning and services changes are in place that help define the study area.

What is prompting an interest in change at this time.

What indications are present the community is interested in changing.

What conditions exist that indicate a deficiency in the current governance model.

What forums already exist for receiving community feedback on governance matters.

“There are many demands for funding of this nature and limited resources available,” said Oakes.

“A well-prepared request will be more likely to receive favourable review in the consideration of allocation of resources.”

Coun. C. J. Rhodes said he thinks it’s time to look at possible expansion of town boundaries.

“I think there is going to be a need in our area for more land,” he said.

Rhodes said his interpretation of the Oakes’ letter is “there are insurmountable obstacles if we move forward with this” but he still supports the idea of getting more information from the provincial government about boundary expansion.

“You don’t climb Mount Everest on a Sunday afternoon … there is a lot of planning involved,” he said.

Wells said numerous communities in B.C. have had to deal with expansion of town boundaries and it won’t hurt to gather more information.

Coun. Sue McKortoff agreed saying this is an important issue that is going to be discussed by community leaders now and in the future.

“We can’t ignore this just because it looks too onerous,” she said. “I think we should talk to Ms. Edmondson … but I don’t want to see a lot of time, energy or money thrown into this right now.”

Coun. Michael Ryan said the issue of expanding town boundaries into the RDOS has been discussed by community leaders for several years and “there is probably a lot more information now than we’ve had in the past” and it wouldn’t hurt to meet with Edmondson or her staff to discuss all options.

Coun. Mike Plante said this community is “close to the tipping point” of significant change as the population in town is very close to 5,000 and this will result in significant changes to pay for policing and other key issues.

“I would like to see what the next steps are and where do we go from here” in terms of gathering information to study the possible implications of expanding town boundaries, said Plante.

Members of council will now await a response from Edmondson or members of her staff before deciding what the next steps would be in arranging to gather information about possible town boundary expansion.

Council is expected to discuss this issue again in the coming weeks.

KEITH LACEY

Osoyoos Times

 

 

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