For the second week in a row, the number of participants was lower than usual (eight this week as well), but, given pandemic concerns, the small number provided the perfect intimate - but socially distanced - gathering in the idyllic Foxglove Nursery Greenhouse. Nestled among the ferns on a clear, cold day with all the huge doors open for maximum ventilation, all appreciated the perfect setting - both lovely as well as one of the safest possible indoor gathering spots on Salt Spring. While our Fridays under the apple trees in the United Church Meadow were spectacular, participants expressed joy that such a perfect winter location had been offered to us. (A heartfelt thank-you, Foxglove!)
For the first time in all the ASK Salt Spring weekly gatherings, we did not welcome a special guest. Instead, all of us were special, and we each had plenty of time to ask questions of each other, listen to answers, and participate in lively conversation about a wide variety of topics, including. . . .
Provincial Election: We began our conversation with a brief discussion of the reason that Adam Olsen was not joining its for this ASK Salt Spring session. We learned that the election results are not official until November 16 and that, until the time of this official certification, Adam remains a private citizen. While it seemed odd to a few (especially those who had come from the United States) that the government seemed to shut down during elections, we were told by a retired federal career employee that staff continue to work during election periods; it is only the elected officials who must cease any of their official duties.
We learned that one of Adam’s first priorities when he resumes his MLA duties is to convene a far-reaching conversation about our roads and how our needs for safe roads can be better communicated. We began this conversation in this ASK Salt Spring session, and it will continue in subsequent gatherings welcoming special guests who know a whole lot about our roads: November 27: Emcon and Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) and December 4 when Adam brings his enthusiasm for re-thinking our approach to the conversation about our roads.
Local Community Commission (LCC): It was suggested that a LCC could give Salt Springers more power determining decisions about our roads. While this is an unlikely conclusion, as an LCC focuses on CRD services, and roads are provincial responsibilities, the question spurred an interesting conversation about the option of a LCC.
Although there are other LCC’s in the province, to date, they have only been located in very small, isolated, and remote communities. While there are no LCC’s in large communities like Salt Spring, provincial legislation allows for them in any unincorporated area.
So, what is a LCC anyway? A LCC is comprised of community representatives elected at large - like Gary, our Electoral Director - to oversee local CRD services and help make decisions regarding such matters as budgets, grants-in-aid, and gas tax funding. Currently on Salt Spring, only Gary makes these decisions. There are some tax implications to an LCC as Commissioners would be paid a small amount. As a result, a referendum supporting it would be required.
An Extra Layer of Bureaucracy or an Opportunity for Better Representation and Service? While some would not support the cost nor the potential for another level of bureaucracy, the arguments for an LCC include broadening local representation, increasing capacity for an increasing CRD workload, and making those decisions currently made by one elected official more transparent through open meetings.
What Needs to Happen to Further Explore Establishing an LCC? Gary has stated he would likely convene an advisory committee to explore the rationale and mandate of an LCC (to be be negotiated with CRD), and, ultimately, put to voters. While some of this initial work was done by the Community Alliance’s Governance Working Group in their September 2019 report all agree that more analysis is needed before this option is taken to Salt Springers for a vote.
Timing? Gary hopes that if this LCC is approved by voters, the 2022 election would include LCC Commissioners as well as a CRD Director. Gary has also made it very clear that the discussion regarding water management and infrastructure funding involving North Salt Spring Water District (NSSWD), CRD, and the Province is currently the top priority in terms of governance improvements on Salt Spring.
North Salt Spring Water District and Fire Rescue: The question was raised about how an LCC would impact our two Improvement Districts, NSSWD and our Fire Department. An LCC would have no impact upon NSSWD nor the Fire Department unless their electors first voted to dissolve these Improvement Districts and join CRD. In that case, the Director, or a designated LCC member, would sit on the new water or fire commission board. However, as with CRD water and sewage treatment commissions now, decisions about budget and policy matters would effectively be made by commissioners elected by their ratepayers to represent their interests. The Province has been trying to encourage improvement districts to join regional districts by tying infrastructure funding to conversion. In addition to this infrastructure funding, there are some governance improvements that would result from conversion to CRD, such as the ability for renters to vote.
BC Transit: Shifting gears, we discussed how popular our bus system is - and has been ever since it was initiated. While some noted that too many buses seem to be running far below capacity (even before the COVID-related limitations), we learned that no transit systems in BC fully recover costs with fares, and that our bus system generates a higher percentage of fares than any other small, rural system in the province.
Despite this recognition of the contribution of fares to the cost of our transit system, (about $200,000 per year), there seemed to be agreement that fares were too high, not flexible enough, and that we should strongly consider a fare free system. In addition to believing that the $2.25 per ride was too costly, it was maintained that, in our virtually-cashless society, the requirement of cash (and the added difficulty of that extra quarter) added unneeded complications which stopped potential riders from leaving the cars at home. Most agreed that added flexibility in fares was also needed: One participant described a rider who had to pay the full $2.25 to ride from the Fulford Ferry Terminal to the turn-off to Isabella Point.
While participants recognized that the strong connection between our bus schedule and those of BC Ferries was a smart financial move, participants from other areas - other BC islands and even from a European perspective - maintained that to be a fully-functional system, frequency and routes need to be significantly-increased to meet the needs of Salt Springers - not just those of visitors. As one participant stated: Why would I wait two hours for the bus to Fulford? I will always decide to take my car rather than waiting.
While good ideas, we reminded that enhancing transit service would require additional funding, and reducing or eliminating fares would mean a much higher taxpayer contribution to the service. As the conversation concluded, we learned that BC Transit is soon to conduct an analysis of our service and future expansion possibilities and that community engagement is an important component of this review.
Our Village: Many agreed that there was a lot more that could be done to make our village the best it can be. One B & B owner relayed the too-often-repeated impression of his guests: Cute town, but it is so dirty. How hard can it be to clean it up a little?
We learned that our local hero who has taken upon himself to collect the garbage littering our streets has also been impacted COVID: the contributions upon which he depend have so significantly decreased as the result of far fewer in the village that he cannot continue offering his service. The question was raised: Why can’t business owners get together to pay someone to collect litter and sweep the streets every few weeks?
Also, what is stopping Ganges businesses from investing the minimal cost to get security cameras?
The suggestion was made that these options be presented at an upcoming Chamber of Commerce meeting for potential action.
Roads: All agreed that Emcon is doing a wonderful job maintaining our roads. One participant spoke with amazement about several instances in which he had reported some pesky potholes and that they had been filled within hours. While we all agreed that this level of service cannot be routinely-expected, the fact the Emcon is clearly listening is sincerely appreciated.
That said, there was agreement that our roads need a great deal of work, much resting within the sphere of responsibility of MoTI. These include:
- The MoTI contract with Emcon only requires sweeping once a year. What can we do to get our roads swept more often? The lives of our ever-increasing numbers of cyclists depend upon it.
- The condition of the road from Ganges to Fulford is terrible, needing major work. While we learned that this project is in the sights of MoTI, many wanted to know: When?
- While it is great that we now have centrelines on our major thoroughfares, some of the curves on dark, wet nights need more. What about cat’s eyes or other safety markings to help drivers stay safe?
- Salt Spring is full of blind intersections and other danger areas like roads that become icy in cold weather. Why can’t we get signs to warn drivers of danger? (NOTE: We learned that it is likely that ICBC will conduct a Signage and Road Safety Marking study here early in the new year.)
- Many felt that the 50 km/h speed limit in Ganges is too fast. What do we need to reduce this speed limit. . .as well as others throughout the island? (NOTE: We learned that there is hope that MoTI will soon conduct a study here to determine engineering recommendations for our speed limits.)
Interested in joining us? Come to the next ASK Salt Spring gathering at our new location, Foxglove Nursery greenhouse this coming Friday, November 13, 2020, from 11 a.m. -1 p.m to welcome our CRD Director, Gary Holman.
All are welcome to ask questions, listen to those of others, and participate in lively conversations.
Social-distancing maintained and safely-made chocolate chip cookies provided; Bring your favourite beverage, curiosity, and a smile.