Regional district focused on residents
The chairperson of the Regional District of North Okanagan is confident the needs of residents will remain a priority.
RDNO consists of six municipalities and five electoral areas.
“They are a partnership for services citizens require,” said Patrick Nicol.
And Nicol believes the ability to address those demands has been facilitated by a new atmosphere around the board table.
“The one thing that has helped is co-operation at every level, whether it’s the Shuswap River sustainability plan or the Greater Vernon master water plan,” he said.
“We’ve seen a positive with the University of B.C. bus. Everyone is working together.”
Among the other indications of previous disputes being abandoned is the recent memorandum of agreement to restructure Greater Vernon parks.
“There’s simply a willingness to listen to other people’s views,” said Nicol.
Among the ongoing focus will be the regional growth strategy and identifying sites for affordable housing and industry.
“Staff and the committee are implementing the plan instead of it just being a docile document sitting on a shelf,” said Nicol.
“We want a strong agricultural base and a strong economy and a place for people to live.”
Like other jurisdictions, though, RDNO continues to experience financial pressure.
“The water systems are the most challenging aspect of that,” said Nicol, pointing to both aging infrastructure and health authority requirements for upgrades.
Virtually all utilities, including Mabel Lake, Whitevale, Grindrod and Greater Vernon, have had to hike rates in recent years to proceed with improvements.
Increased funding is also going towards expansion of the transit system.
“People want to rely on the bus and not be left on the side of the road,” said Nicol.
RDNO partners recently agreed to fund a second bus to the University of B.C. in Kelowna, and adjustments to other routes have been made.
The transit system provided about 440,000 trips in 2012 to North Okanagan residents.
In terms of recreation, a new spray park and outdoor fitness equipment will be constructed in Lumby in 2013, while Greater Vernon residents will vote in April on borrowing funds for a sports complex next to Okanagan College.
There are also ongoing discussions about new museum and art gallery facilities in Greater Vernon.
One issue that will remain at the forefront for the board is provincial meat regulations and the negative impact it has had on local farmers.
“I am hopeful the agriculture minister will listen to the people of the region because that’s who we serve,” said Nicol.
RDNO wants the government to issue class D and E meat inspection licences so on-farm slaughtering can occur.
The number of local producers has gone from 1,200 to 300 since the regulations became official in 2007.
Another priority for Nicol is working with the community, senior government and the private sector to bring high-speed Internet to Cherryville.
“For businesses and students there, they have to drive to the crest of a hill and find a hot spot (to access Internet),” he said.
“For that part of the region, this is the single-most important issue and we have to solve that. That is what they need to succeed.”