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Mayor defends annex process
A high-ranking official doubts Vernon’s approach to annexing rural properties will change.
The Regional District of North Okanagan board has received the findings of the electoral area annexation impact study. The document suggests that the annexing of individual lots into municipalities could be avoided through joint planning, protocols and municipalities possibly extending sewer beyond their boundaries.
However, Vernon Mayor Rob Sawatzky isn’t convinced that will occur.
“I don’t see any immediate changes. Our policies are very respectful of the issues brought forward in the study,” he said.
Sawatzky points out that individual property owners in the electoral areas apply for annexation, usually to receive a service like sewer, and the final decision is made by the provincial government.
“We have no active policy for annexation,” he said, adding that in terms of planning, the city is a strong supporter of the regional growth strategy.
As for providing sewer beyond the city’s boundary, Sawatzky says the reasons not to do so include the city not having any say over development, difficulties ensuring utility bills are paid and trying to get the other jurisdiction to pay for capital upgrades.
However, BX-Silver Star director Mike Macnabb is hopeful the study’s findings will lead to North Okanagan municipalities working with electoral areas more closely on annexations.
“We’re not just a land holding base for their pleasure. People live there and there are services to fund,” he said.
The study suggests the loss of properties can undermine an electoral area’s tax base and make it difficult to pay for services.
“The BX-Swan Lake fire service is potentially vulnerable to the change in assessment base due to annexation,” said consultant Dan Huang.
There has been some suggestion over the years that the Swan Lake commercial corridor be annexed into Vernon but 32 per cent of the BX-Swan Lake fire service’s tax requisition comes from there.
Vernon director Juliette Cunningham admits there is a need for development closer to the city centre instead of sprawl.
“Density is the way we need to go but the challenge we’ve had with annexation requests is they are often because septic systems have failed,” she said.
Macnabb believes municipalities lose financially when their boundary expands.
“The city never fully recovers the cost of residential annexation because of roads and other services that have to be provided,” he said.