‘Unification’ push gathering steam

Unification is perhaps a better word than amalgamation

Unification is perhaps a better word than amalgamation.

Those are the findings, so far, of the Society for the Future Governance of Greater Vernon, whose  public and online campaign is entering the home stretch.

The society launched in September with a goal to foster discussions among the citizens of Vernon, Coldstream and regional district Electoral Areas B and C with the intent to improve the governance of these areas.

“We’re getting a fair amount of feedback, all positive, interestingly enough no negative comments at all, and what we’re getting from a lot of citizens is, the amalgamation word, everybody is interpreting that to mean Coldstream or B and C amalgamates into Vernon,” said Bruce Shepherd, a financial planner who helped found the society. “What they are really saying, is it’s better described as a unification under one new municipality structure.”

“That’s what KPMG recommended when you read their recommendation: amalgamation of an area to create a new municipality. There’s a basic distinction there that’s important.”

KPMG was commissioned by the City of Vernon to do a core services review, and the society has been using the review to point out it called for “Amalgamation of the city, the District of Coldstream, and electoral areas B and C to create a new municipality with exclusive responsibility for all of these service areas would be the most effective approach, allowing reduction of senior management positions, alignment of operations and consistent policy direction.”

“We should be unified under one government,” said Shepherd. “We don’t want to be saddled with Vernon or Coldstream’s baggage. We want one government.”

One example the society is using for a need for one governance is the recent parks restructuring.

Quoting from a memorandum written by the City of Vernon’s public works manager in December 2012, which was only publicly released in August 2013, “the total estimated cost to provide the parks function in 2014 following restructuring is $2,999,000, an increase of $470,000 or 19 per cent.”

The increase to the City of Vernon is $159,000, or nine per cent, and the increases to Coldstream and Areas B and C is $310,000 or 37 per cent.

“The lovely picture they’re painting (about parks restructuring) is costing us 20 per cent more,” said Shepherd. “This is crazy what’s going on here.”

Under a unified area, said Shepherd, if you go from three administrative structures down to one, it’s reasonable to assume there would be a 20 per cent cost-saving of payroll costs and expenses

The society’s petition campaign, which calls for a review by local and provincial authorities, and to unify Vernon, Coldstream and Areas B and C, aims to have the provincial government step in to help if they get enough petition signatures.

While nobody suggested a target number, said Shepherd, the society is hoping for 4,000 signatures.

“That comes from the most recent referendum for borrowing, the $7.5 million for the track (at Okanagan College),” said Shepherd. “That’s how many people voted yes. The ministry has said if we get enough signatures, they’ll push it forward so citizens of Greater Vernon can have a say in what a new structure would look like.”

The society hopes to have its petition question on the ballots for next November’s general election.

“We’ve got so many petitions, from what we know we could be over (4,000 signatures),” said Shepherd. “We’ve got them in offices, we’ve been going door-to-door.”

The society will be out Saturday, Oct. 19, at three or four different shopping centres where people can sign the petition or have questions about their campaign answered.

The campaign is slated to run until the end of October. More information, and a chance to sign the petition, can be found at greatervernongovernance.ca.