Discussion heating up over governance

Two area directors don’t believe their electorate has any interest in amalgamating

To amalgamate or not to amalgamate. That is the question.

The Society for the Future Governance of Greater Vernon has sparked the idea and subsequent debate over combining Vernon, Coldstream and Areas B and C under one government.

“Most of the comments have been, “it’s about time,’” said Bruce Shepherd, society president.

To date, the online petition has gathered more than 600 signatures asking for a referendum on the issue.

“I see lots of Coldstream people and lots of Vernon people,” said Shepherd of the names on the list.

While several Coldstream politicians have stated that its residents are not interested in amalgamation, Shepherd says otherwise.

“Rest assured that there is interest in Coldstream.”

According to the society, more than 30 per cent of respondents are Coldstream citizens, just over 10 per cent are from Areas B and C with the balance from the City of Vernon.

Along with the website (www.greatervernongovernance.ca) the society is also reaching out to residents by adding mail-in petitions as well as petition lists being collected by volunteer canvassers.

“This is a very healthy discussion which has just begun amongst the citizens of Greater Vernon,” said Shepherd.

Vernon councillor and RDNO board chairperson Patrick Nicol also has praise for the process.

“I applaud people who take the initiative on their own volunteer time and believe in something, and it’s done legitimately through local government service avenues – and, truly, asking for a petition is that – and it’s just a matter of who would vote and what they would vote on.

“We actually are one government for a number of services, and that’s not known by a lot of people.”

While they also don’t have any issue with the question being put out there, the two area directors, whose jurisdictions are included in the proposal, don’t believe their electorate has any interest in amalgamating.

“Nobody has said, ‘I think it would be better if we become part of the city,’” said Bob Fleming, BX (Area B) representative. “We don’t have sewer, sidewalks, curbs and lighting but you pay less. People enjoy the rural lifestyle.

“It (amalgamation) is hugely expensive and people should be careful what they wish for.”

Mike Macnabb, who represents approximately 4,000 residents in the Silver Star (Area C) region, has similar thoughts.

“We did a straw poll about five years ago and I think about 80 per cent said absolutely not (to amalgamating with Vernon).

“I think there’s a lot of reasons why amalgamation is not a good idea.”

Using Silver Star Road as an example, he points to the fact that regional district roads get a lot of assistance from the Ministry of Transportation, but that would change if they were incorporated into the city.

“You’re looking at pretty much $1 million a year to look after it (just Silver Star Road).”

Whether it’s regional district, City of Vernon or Coldstream residents, Macnabb says: “I think the taxpayer would find himself with a much bigger bill.”

Fleming adds: “The city already currently deals with a huge area.

“I think that overall if people think they aren’t getting efficient governance they might find they are mistaken.

“It (current system) is not only working, it seems to be working well.”

Both directors applaud the fact that changes have been made to streamline services such as water and the very recent parks and recreation agreement.

“In the last three-and-a-half years, two of the biggest functions of the regional district have been agreed to, so things have happened,” said Fleming.

“Reduction of duplication of effort has happened.”