The resurrection of the ‘A’ word (amalgamation) has sparked varied response in Coldstream.
“My first thought was, ‘oh gosh, here we go again,’” said Coun. Maria Besso of the online petition to target a referendum on a single local government by the Society for the Future Governance of Greater Vernon.
“It has never been in the interest of Coldstream taxpayers to amalgamate.”
Coun. Richard Enns adds: “Every Coldstream resident I’ve talked to is opposed to it. I think people feel that their local government is a good one and it’s very sensitive.”
A long-time opponent to amalgamation, Coun. Gyula Kiss says Coldstream residents will not be happy about having taxes increased, a limited access council and services altered, and possible cuts.
“The people that live here are quite happy with the service we provide,” said Kiss.
While he says there’s nothing wrong with debate, Mayor Jim Garlick feels amalgamation of Vernon, Coldstream and the electoral areas isn’t a viable option for the region.
“I think what we have is good and once you get educated you understand it.”
Garlick also points out that the area politicians have already done a lot of work to streamline many services, such as water and parks, recreation and culture.
Coun. Peter McClean supports the initiative to bring healthy discussion forward.
“I think it has its merits. It may be a small interest group right now but they are bringing it forward to the public.
“We will see where the public really sits.”
But if a single governance does go through, McClean wants to see a ward system with representation from all areas on the new council, based on area populations.
Coun. Doug Dirk also sees nothing wrong with the discussion, but when it comes to the spending of current local governments, he says much of those decisions come from the taxpayers.
“Things like increased costs, a good portion of things taxpayers voted on,” said Dirk, pointing to the Coldstream fire hall, public works yard, sports complex.
Pointing to figures from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Besso notes that the district already has some of the lowest spending per capita.
“If Coldstream thinks it can save money they should think again,” said Besso, who would like to see more data-driven discussion.
Speaking from experience as an Area A landowner who has endured increased taxes but no noticeable increase in services, Enns foresees the same thing happening to Coldstream if a single government is formed.
“I just don’t think amalgamation is going to solve the problems that petitioners think it will solve.”
The prospect of a 2014 referendum (if enough signatures are collected) is also being questioned.
“Any one area, if they voted against it, shuts it all down,” said Garlick.
Enns also has concerns that another referendum could complicate the process for groups such as the art gallery and museum and Greater Vernon Water.
“I think it will make it very difficult for the other referendum proponents.”
Coun. Pat Cochrane, a former Vernon councillor, declined to comment on the amalgamation subject.