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Incorporation: Misrepresentation of Islands Trust Position

    Editorial & Opinions, Governance & Politics    August 25, 2017

A Letter-to-the-Editor was sent to the Driftwood from the Islands Trust Chief Administrative Officer, regarding disinformation about the Trust being circulated within the community in advance of the municipal incorporation vote for Salt Spring Island electors on September 9, 2017.

Below is the copy of the letter:

There is much information and disinformation about the Trust being circulated within the community in advance of the municipal incorporation vote for Salt Spring Island electors on Sept. 9, 2017.

A publicity poster recently circulated by the YeSS! Campaign regarding the Salt Spring Island incorporation process describes a ‘Salt Spring Island Municipality’ and includes the phrase, “IN CONCERT WITH THE ISLANDS TRUST.” This leaves the reader with the impression that the Islands Trust approved the messaging of this poster and is supportive of the YES side of this important civic decision. We wish to make clear that the Islands Trust, at direction of Trust Council, is neutral in its position and respects the right of Islanders to choose their preferred form of governance. Any public materials that suggest otherwise are a misrepresentation of the Islands Trust position.

The Islands Trust remains engaged with this process and has developed a Transition Plan and developed a set of ‘frequently asked questions’ to support citizen’s decision making.

Russ Hotsenpiller
Chief Administrative Officer
Islands Trust

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why is the Islands Trust not engaged in the incorporation discussions?

A: Islands Trust Council’s position on incorporation is neutral as it respects the community’s decision about governance.

The Islands Trust Policy Statement that guides the work of the organization states: “Trust Council holds that island communities within the Trust Area are themselves best able to determine the most effective local government structure to support their local autonomy and specific community needs within the Object of the Islands Trust.”

Q: How do you explain public materials on incorporation seemingly bearing Islands Trust endorsement?

It is important for the community to be aware that Trust Council, and the Islands Trust organization as a whole, is neutral in its position, public materials and actions regarding the incorporation debate and process.

Any information representing Islands Trust position is available on this page, the Islands Trust website and through decisions and minutes of Trust Council.

Specifically, public materials circulated by individuals or special-interest groups, such as advertisements, posters, social media posts, suggesting Islands Trust’s endorsement of their position or information are inaccurate and a misrepresentation of Islands Trust’s position.

Q: Does the Islands Trust support incorporation of Salt Spring Island?

Islands Trust did not request the study, is not involved in the incorporation process and does not take a position for or against incorporation.

Islands Trust respects the community’s decisions about governance and has prepared a Transition Plan to provide objective information about the impact of that community decision.

Q: How do you respond to criticism about Islands Trust’s ability to address affordable housing?

Islands Trust is indeed addressing affordable housing on the islands in the Trust Area. Each local trust committee can make decisions on zoning and density to allow affordable housing in an area on the island.

On Salt Spring Island for example, the local trust committee approved a few affordable housing projects using land use planning tools including zoning and density. Unfortunately, these projects have been stalled due to the North Salt Spring Waterworks District’s moratorium on new connections to the limited water supply at St. Mary’s Lake.

Also, in May 2013, the local trust committee implemented a pilot project to permit secondary suites in select areas and, as a current top priority, is considering permitting year-round accommodation in seasonal cottages.

The Islands Trust is also processing at least five rezoning applications, which could result in a significant increase in the number of affordable housing units on Salt Spring Island.

Affordable housing is a priority for Islands Trust. In 2016, Islands Trust held a Community Housing Forum with over 70 people, community groups, local government and elected officials sharing ideas on better addressing affordable housing within the Islands Trust Area. Representatives from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and BC Housing also provided information about their efforts to address affordable housing.

The Forum contributed to an Islands Trust report Community Housing in the Trust Area and seven commitments from Trust Council to enhance the Islands Trust’s ability to meet community housing needs across the Trust Area.

Q: Would a municipality have the ability to increase densities and development on our Salt Spring?

Currently, the Salt Spring Island Local Trust Committee manages the use and density on the island through land use bylaws.

The Salt Spring Official Community Plan sets the conditions under which density could increase. The OCP currently supports increases in density for affordable housing. To change the OCP under the current structure requires a majority of votes by the LTC (two of the three voting members).

If Salt Spring Island incorporates, the island municipality would inherit the OCP and changes to the OCP would also require a majority of votes (four of the seven voting members).

Q: People might be concerned that their taxes will go up as a result of a ‘yes’ vote to incorporate. Do you expect this will happen as it did with Bowen Island, or are there options/ways to manage a tax increase that will alleviate any added pressure on households?

Islands Trust cannot speculate on the taxing decisions of a new island municipality. Similar to Bowen Island Municipality, the taxes Salt Spring Islanders pay will include a small portion towards the operation of the Islands Trust based on a calculation specified in the Islands Trust Act.

If Salt Spring Incorporates

Q: Would the Islands Trust be able to maintain its advocacy program and its in-house land trust after incorporation?

Yes. Islands Trust will continue to provide advocacy support similar to what it provides to Bowen Island Municipality and local trust committees, as well as land conservation through the Islands Trust Fund.

Q: How much would Salt Spring Island taxpayers contribute to the Islands Trust after incorporation?

Island municipalities contribute towards:

• Cost of operations of Trust Council and Executive Committee
• Cost of administrative operations of the Trust Fund Board

Taxes for island municipalities are calculated using a formula based on the assessed value of land and improvements in the Trust Area. The amount is determined by section 47 of the Islands Trust Act.

The amount Salt Spring Island taxpayers contribute after incorporation would vary with changes in the Islands Trust annual budget and with changes in the ratio of assessed values.

Q: Would the incorporation result in boundary changes for both Salt Spring Island and the Trust Area?

If Salt Spring Island were to incorporate as an island municipality, it is likely that the municipal boundary would more closely reflect the current Salt Spring Island Electoral Area (i.e. Capital Regional District Electoral Area F) boundary.

In that case, the remaining associated islands (e.g. Piers Island, Prevost Island) within the Salt Spring Island Local Trust Area would likely be redistributed to other local trust areas.

Q: What obligations and benefits would a SSI municipality have with regard to the Preserve and Protect mandate?

Section 39.1 of the Islands Trust Act requires that “the council of a municipality, all or part of which is in the trust area, must have regard to the object of the trust in adopting a bylaw or issuing a permit or license.” In the case of Bowen Island, the Province also includes this requirement in the Letters Patent – the document outlining the requirements and legislative powers granted by the Province to a municipality at the time of its creation. The practises and obligations associated with the Bowen Island incorporation and Letters Patent are expected to apply to a potential Salt Spring Island incorporation.

According to the Islands Trust Act an island municipality must submit an official community plan bylaw to the Islands Trust Executive Committee (EC) for approval. If EC does not approve the bylaw, the municipality could appeal to the Trust Council. Both the EC and Trust Council must not approve the bylaw “if it is contrary to or at variance with the Islands Trust Policy Statement.” If Trust Council does not approve the bylaw, the municipality could appeal to the Minister.

Under the Letters Patent with Bowen Island, non-OCP bylaws, which relate to the Trust Policy Statement, are also required to be referred to the Executive Committee for comment. A Salt Spring Island municipality is expected to have a similar requirement.

In summary, direct land use control on Salt Spring Island would be under the authority of the new municipal council, not the Local Trust Committee. In their decision-making, the SSI municipality would have a legislative responsibility to have regard for the object of the Trust and the preserve and protect mandate. While general oversight with regard to the application of the preserve and protect mandate and the Policy Statement would be provided by Islands Trust, the degree to which the new municipality will realize the mandate of the Trust will depend on the municipal council.

Finally, the new municipality would continue to benefit and participate in Trust-wide services, such as advocacy and region-wide initiatives, which reflect the preserve and protect mandate.

If Salt Spring Does NOT Incorporate

Q: If Salt Spring Island votes against incorporation, will the Islands Trust continue to operate the way it currently does?

While there would be no immediate change to operations after a vote, the prospect of incorporation has given Islands Trust an opportunity to look at how it can deliver its provincial mandate in a more cost-efficient and effective manner, even if Salt Spring Island chooses against incorporation.

If Salt Spring Island votes “No” to incorporate, the Transition Plan recommends a governance and service delivery review to determine how Islands Trust can deliver its important provincial mandate in a more cost-effective way.

Q: Will Islands Trust be looking at ways it can improve in the event Salt Spring votes ‘no’ on September 9, 2017?

Yes. In fact, if Salt Spring Island votes “No” to incorporate, the Transition Plan recommends that Islands Trust undertake a governance and service delivery review to determine how Islands Trust can deliver its important provincial mandate in the most effective way.

The Transition Plan also suggests approaches within the control of the Trust to address concerns about fairness in taxation among islands, including:

developing a more integrated management model between service agencies;
realigning how the Islands Trust delivers land use services to the islands;
using alternative funding mechanisms, such as the use of special tax requisitions, for more discretionary or specialized land use projects; and possible amendments to the Islands Trust Act.

Islands Trust Transition Plan

Q: What is the purpose of the Transition Plan?

The Transition Plan outlines the organizational, financial and governance implications of Salt Spring Island incorporation to the Islands Trust.

The Transition Plan lists a series of actions Islands Trust will need to implement immediately following a “Yes” vote and six-to-twelve months following formal incorporation.

The Transition Plan is the first step in helping Trust Council make decisions about how the organization will make up the estimated annual budget shortfall of $540,000 following the three-year transition phase and deliver its provincial mandate.

Q: How did you arrive at the $540,000 figure?

Below is a simplified explanation:

If Salt Spring Island incorporates, Islands Trust will lose revenue of up to $2.02 million.

At the same time, Islands Trust will save an estimated $1.49 million in direct expenses associated with providing local land use planning and administrative support leaving a net deficit of approximately $540,000.

For the detailed analysis, please refer to the updated Islands Trust Impact Analysis provided by consultants Urban Systems and included in the Transition Plan as Appendix 3 (Section 3 starting on Page 10 )

Q: Will there be a $540,000 budget shortfall to Islands Trust immediately following incorporation?

No, if Salt Spring Island incorporates, there will be a three-year transition period where the budget and the services will continue at the current level.

Q: How will the Islands Trust make up a $540,000 shortfall beyond the three years following incorporation?

Trust Council has not yet made any decisions about how it will make up the estimated budget shortfall at the end of the three-year transition period.

If Salt Spring Island incorporates then Trust Council will use the information in the Transition Plan to make decisions on how to balance taxes and service delivery while delivering its provincial mandate.

Q: How does the Transition Plan address the potential staffing cuts, considering more than 70 per cent of the Islands Trust budget is spent on staffing?

The Transition Plan provides a conservative analysis (no tax increases) of how Islands Trust may adapt to the estimated $540,000 annual budget shortfall.

In this scenario, there would be a 20 per cent reduction in planning staff complement, and therefore capacity to support, land use planning on the islands.

A detailed Adaptation Strategy will include a staffing plan to help Trust Council make decisions that best meet its corporate responsibility and deliver its mandate with the resources it has.

Q: How much would the incorporation process cost the Islands Trust?

The Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development provided $125,000 to help Islands Trust develop a detailed Adaptation Strategy for the long-term implications of incorporation on Islands Trust operations if Salt Spring Island votes yes to incorporate.

The Ministry had earlier paid the Islands Trust $5,000 to develop the Transition Plan to review options if Salt Spring Island votes in favour of incorporation.

The CAO and senior staff have also dedicated considerable time to develop the Transition Plan.

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