Organizers of a petition are confident there’s broad support for tearing down boundaries in Greater Vernon.
As of Thursday, the Society for the Future Governance of Greater Vernon had more than 3,000 names on a petition which urges local and provincial authorities to develop a plan to combine Vernon, Coldstream and Areas B and C into a single entity.
“Our ultimate goal was 4,000 but at the end of the day, we always had a base goal to have any authority moving ahead and we’ve reached that,” said Bruce Shepherd, society president.
The society hoped to have at least 10 per cent of the voter turnout from the 2011 municipal election.
“We are very pleased that we have surpassed 20 per cent of that threshhold in all jurisdictions and still counting,” said Shepherd.
Currently, society members are trying to determine the addresses of signatories so interest is known among the four jurisdictions.
Once that process is completed, the society will review all of the comments received from residents and determine the next course of action.
“We had to assess what kind of broad support there is and now that we have it, we have to plan where we go,” said Shepherd.
“Before Christmas, we can then be before the appropriate people to find out what next steps have to be taken.”
The society’s goal is to have a referendum question during the November 2014 civic election asking if residents of Greater Vernon would support a new governance structure.
Society members have discussed their plans with the provincial government but Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster insists that the society must first go to local civic leaders to see if there is an interest in moving ahead.
“We would see what the result of that is and then we’ll go from there,” said Foster, adding that the provincial government will not mandate amalgamation on the area.
“This is a ground-up, local issue and I’m cautious to be seen as influencing one way or the other, but that is certainly a significant number of signatures,” said Foster.
However, Coldstream Mayor Jim Garlick points out that there are 45,000 eligible voters in Greater Vernon.
“When people come forward, we (council) have to have an open mind but what I’ve heard so far isn’t convincing,” he said of the society’s arguments that a single entity would create financial and operational efficiencies.
Garlick suggests that amalgamation could lead to higher taxes in Vernon and Coldstream.
“There is maintenance of the roads in the electoral areas and there would be three (volunteer) fire halls that we would have to change into professional halls,” he said.
Garlick says a discussion with provincial officials indicates that a formal study into governance could not be completed by November 2014.
Mayor Rob Sawatzky won’t speculate on how Vernon council may respond to a request to pursue a study on amalgamation.
“We have our own views but we are part of a collective group,” he said of council making a decision.
“We need to see what the final tallies are but they (society) are approaching some significance.”
Mike Macnabb, Area C director, is not impressed with the society’s claims that it has 20 per cent of the voter turnout.
“Voter turnout is not population,” he said.
“It’s a citizen’s right to bring things forward but this (petition) has been vague. There have been no financial figures. Taxes won’t go down and services won’t improve.”
Macnabb isn’t sure how many of his constituents support changing governance.
“I have not had one call supporting amalgamation but I have had calls from people who say don’t do it,” he said, adding that many of his residents want to protect what they see as the rural character of the jurisdiction.