The Greater Vernon Governance Society petition contains 3

The Greater Vernon Governance Society petition contains 3

Amalgamation study hits dead-end

Efforts to reform Greater Vernon’s governance structure have collapsed

Efforts to reform Greater Vernon’s governance structure have collapsed.

Coldstream council and the directors for Areas B and C have blocked calls for a study into merging those jurisdictions with Vernon.

“If they won’t request it, nothing happens,” said Bruce Shepherd, Greater Vernon Governance Society president.

The only jurisdiction that has not responded to the society’s request for a study is Vernon and city council will make a decision Jan. 27.

The society recently collected 3,160 names on a petition, including 816 in Coldstream, asking local and provincial authorities to develop a plan to combine regional governments into a single entity.

However, before a large crowd of largely amalgamation opponents, Coldstream council voted unanimously Monday not to endorse the process.

“It’s not in the best interest of Coldstream to proceed with this,” said Coun. Pat Cochrane, who made the motion to turn down the request from the society.

“It’s not just financial. It’s about lifestyle and agricultural land.”

Councillors stated that amalgamation would dilute Coldstream residents’ say over major issues and likely lead to increased taxes, while a study would consume financial resources and staff time.

“All measurable information already exists,” said Coun. Doug Dirk of comparing how the jurisdictions operate.

“I don’t see any value in pursuing it (study).”

Coun. Maria Besso told society members that all of the jurisdictions have gone to great strides to co-operate and find efficiencies.

“Some of the problems you perceive are things of the past. We’ve tried to change things,” she said of agreements on water, parks and recreation.

The representatives for Areas B and C were also at Monday’s Coldstream council meeting and they were also clear on where they stand.

“The phone calls I’ve had are from people asking, ‘How do I vote against this?’” said Bob Fleming, BX-Swan Lake director.

Fleming says a regional district survey in 2008 also indicated electoral area residents were overwhelmingly happy with their form of governance.

“This question has been asked and answered.”

Mike Macnabb, BX-Silver Star director, believes the current model provides residents with accountability.

“You would lose local autonomy (through amalgamation) that reflects the neighbourhoods in which you live,” he said.

Shepherd admits he is disappointed with the decision made by Coldstream and Areas B and C.

“We found a lot of people want more information on the topic and that wasn’t accomplished tonight,” he said.

Shepherd wouldn’t speculate on the society’s next steps, such as running candidates in November’s civic elections, or if it will promote a governance change in the future.

“Perhaps down the road, it may surface again,” he said of the issue.

While Vernon council hasn’t formed a position yet on a governance study, Mayor Rob Sawatzky anticipates the matter has hit a dead-end.

“It would be illogical to ask the government to fund a study if there are no partners,” he said, adding that Victoria should not mandate a study.

“You should never force these things on to people in a democratic society.”

Sawatzky had called for a study without indicating where he stands on amalgamation.

“If someone else is funding a search for more information, I’m always in support of that,” he said.

Eric Foster, Vernon-Monashee MLA, reiterates that the government will not force a new governance model.

“We have been clear that this isn’t driven by us. This is locally driven. It doesn’t look promising for a study,” he said.

But while Coldstream and the electoral areas are opposed, Foster says he is waiting to see what Vernon does with the study request.

“I am not sure what would happen (if the city votes in favour of a study). That response would come from the ministry,” he said.