The Daily Courier
North Westsiders warned incorporation not simple, nor cheap
The incorporation of West Kelowna provides a cautionary tale for residents of remote Okanagan communities favouring self-government, Mayor Gord Milsom says.
People living at the far northwest corner of Okanagan Lake might be under-estimating the work and expense involved in creating a new municipality, Milsom said this week.
"As far as running a municipality, I know from experience, there's a lot more to it than just the services that have been brought up in your presentation," Milsom told Caille Simpson, a North Westsider, during a meeting hosted Wednesday by the Central Okanagan regional district.
And regional board chair Gail Given, a Kelowna city councillor, told Simpson that simply establishing a planning department in a new municipality would be more costly than residents expect.
"My daughter just became a planner and her starting salary was $89,000," Given said. "I'm, like, a little jealous."
Some of the 1,500 people who live in the North Westside communities have long complained about what they say is the poor value they receive in local government services for the taxes they pay to the regional district.
"It just seems to us that there is no care or deep thought when it comes to the spending of our tax dollars," said Simpson, referring specifically to the regional district's spending of $107,000 on a basic picnic shelter in one of the North Westside communities.
She also said area residents are concerned about the cost of pending water improvements, turmoil in the fire department and poor local planning.
In response to those concerns, the regional board has struck a committee to look at what's involved in undertaking a comprehensive, provincially-funded study on the costs and benefits of incorporation versus remaining a part of the regional district.
"We just want to determine if, you know, there's no way incorporation is right for us because it's too expensive. Or if it is actually a great option for us, and it is viable," Simpson said.
She also said she hoped the study might look at whether the North Westside neighbourhoods, such as Fintry, Westshore Estates and Valley of the Sun, could separate from the Kelowna-based Central Okanagan regional district and join the Vernon-based North Okanagan regional district. "Maybe that's a better fit for us," Simpson said.
West Kelowna residents voted to set up their own municipality in 2007. Since 2008, municipal taxes have risen 39%. Over the same period, the Canadian inflation rate has been 21%.
Wayne Carson, the elected representative for the North Westside area, said similar-sized communities such as Salt Spring Island and Christina Lake have looked at incorporation, but decided against it.
"That's because the information they received said, 'No, this isn't a good idea for you'," Carson said, adding he nevertheless hoped the study would help North Westsiders finally decide whether to pursue incorporation or remain part of the regional district.