Positive, Low-risk Alternatives to Municipal Incorporation
We don’t need to incorporate: Improvements to our existing governance can be made without the increased road and policing costs and other risks of incorporation. Shockingly, the provincial government official overseeing the 2013-2016 Salt Spring Island governance and incorporation studies directed the committees and their consultants not to consider improvements that could be made under our existing form of governance. The committees were told that incorporation was the only alternative they could consider, even though existing provincial legislation allows numerous, less drastic changes.
A Local Community Commission and other options: In 2010, a BC government official advised local elected representatives to consider converting improvement districts (water and fire) to CRD local service areas and creating additional CRD commissions to manage CRD service delivery: “Establishing a local community commission (LCC) could allow residents to have direct involvement in managing municipal-type services such as sewer and water systems….” The 2013-2016 governance and incorporation study committees and consultants were forbidden to consider these measures, thus denying voters crucial information about positive alternatives to incorporation.
Urban Systems (the incorporation study’s consultants) dismissed LCCs, claiming they are “best suited to remote isolated communities where it is not practical for regional district staff to administer and operate local services.” In actual travel time, Ganges is twice as isolated from its regional headquarters as the five communities where LCCs already exist! Nothing in the provincial legislation restricts LCCs to smaller communities. A recent governance study in Okanagan-Similkameen found that LCCs are “more appropriate for communities with larger populations from which to draw candidates”.
An LCC would consist of 4 or 6 SSI-elected commissioners and the electoral area director. Successive CRD Directors have noted their position’s overwhelming demands. LCC commissioners could share the burden. Gas tax fund and other grant allocations, affordable housing, CRD bylaw enforcement oversight, and other responsibilities could be assigned to a Salt Spring LCC by the CRD Board. Possible CRD concerns about liability would need to be addressed – as they have been with existing services. The Positively NO website provides Ministry-approved background documents on LCC’s.
Protocol agreements between the CRD, the Islands Trust, and other agencies could provide for consultation and coordination with the Salt Spring LCC regarding planning, roads, and policing.
The governance and incorporation studies were not even allowed to consider models of fire department service delivery that already exist under the CRD umbrella. The non-profit Pender Island Fire Protection Society (PIFPS) is contracted by the CRD to provide fire protection services. PIFPS appoints the fire chief and provides oversight and planning to the department. Other fire departments are supported by CRD advisory commissions and staff. The Pender fire department and others have received grants for fire hall construction and other facilities through the CRD.
Two of our most successful services—the library and the recycling depot—are operated in CRD-owned facilities by local non-profit societies under contracts with the CRD. The CRD received a $4.55 million grant from the Canada/BC Building Canada Fund to help pay for library construction. Following that model, could the North Salt Spring Waterworks District and the fire department be converted to non-profit societies contracting with the CRD? Fire and water services would be eligible for infrastructure grants through the CRD under either the contracted non-profit or CRD commission approaches.
Multi-service model: The Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) contracts with the Hornby Island Residents and Ratepayers Association which operates solid waste disposal facilities, a community hall, community parks, and comfort stations and oversees fire protection. Hornby’s fire hall was partly paid for from a gas tax grant through the CVRD. This approach was not considered by our governance study because it was “outside” the committee’s provincially-restricted terms of reference.
The Islands Trust Council has decided that if SSI votes “NO” to incorporation, it will consider a governance and service delivery review, examining ways to increase Trust efficiency and reduce Salt Spring taxpayers’ subsidy of local planning on other Trust islands. The new NDP-Green alliance is likely to be more committed than the BC Liberals to the continued effectiveness of the Islands Trust. The new BC government could allow reconsideration of an increase in the number of locally-elected LTC members from 2 to 4, but with all Salt Spring LTC members having full voting rights on Trust Council. The Salt Spring Island Trust Committee (LTC) could possibly take on subdivision approval, which is currently done off-island by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
Conclusion: Alternatives available under our existing rural island governance can address almost all of the concerns that Salt Spring’s locally elected officials catalogued when they requested provincial funding for a governance study in 2012. The CRD and the Islands Trust have already shown a willingness to adapt to Salt Spring’s needs. We don’t need to take the risky, irreversible step of municipal incorporation with its multi-million dollar burden of downloaded roads and policing costs, and its inevitable weakening of the Islands Trust.
The Author: Richard Kerr is an economist who served on the 1999-2002 Salt Spring Restructure Study. He has chaired the Highland Water and Maliview Sewer Commission and served on the Island Trust’s Salt Spring Advisory Planning Committee, the CRD’s Community Economic Development Commission, and other local volunteer organizations.