BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Amalgamation study pitched

Concept of Greater Vernon amalgamation was raised at Vernon council’s strategic planning session Monday

The A word has reared its head again.

Months after a citizens’ campaign didn’t translate into political action and the election largely ignored the issue, the concept of Greater Vernon amalgamation was raised at Vernon council’s strategic planning session Monday.

“If things will ever move forward, we need to be proactive,” said Coun. Scott Anderson, as each council member brought forward their election platforms and top five actions they want pursued.

Anderson says while Coldstream and the regional district refer to old, outdated studies, there is no relevant, modern information about one governance structure.

“We need something that says this is either good or bad,” he said, adding that a study falls under his call for enhanced fiscal responsibility.

Anderson is so passionate about the issue, he is willing to have the city pay the entire cost of a governance study if Coldstream and the electoral areas are unwilling.

While none of his colleagues endorsed Anderson’s plan, the relationship between Vernon and its neighbours certainly dominated part of Monday’s discussion.

“There are lots of little issues that come up,” said Coun. Catherine Lord, who wants the other jurisdictions to financially contribute to repairing the Greater Vernon welcome signs and keeping the library open Sundays instead of Vernon taxpayers holding the bag financially.

Other cross-boundary topics that came up included the master water plan, the future of the art gallery and museum, and economic development, with a specific focus on industrial land.

Mayor Akbal Mund questioned why non-Vernon businesses are featured more visibly on the Vernon Tourism website than those within the city’s border.

“It’s wholly funded by Vernon so why don’t we promote Vernon first?” he said.

Newly elected officials often like to be seen as fulfilling campaign trail promises, and certainly pitching amalgamation finds favour with a certain element within Vernon (and outside too).

However, it would be interesting to see if Anderson’s views evolve as he becomes more familiar with how local government operates and the complexities of providing services.

As an example, would the additional tax base Vernon would receive through amalgamation cover the high cost of road maintenance in the electoral areas (the provincial government currently pays the bill)? And at a time when Lord pushed Monday for sewer to be extended further into Okanagan Landing almost 22 years after annexation, is the city prepared to push pipes deep into the BX and Coldstream?

Scott is correct there isn’t any up-to-date details on the pros and cons of amalgamation, and certainly a study could help solidify positions among politicians and residents further.

However, even if the city is willing to pay for a governance review, there is more to the process than the cost. Willing partners on all sides would be required as Coldstream and the regional district would have to make significant information available to the study authors so they can present a sound, final conclusion. If just one of the jurisdictions keeps the files locked, then the validity of any study is restricted.

In the end, it made sense for Anderson to raise an amalgamation study as it was an issue he heard from Vernon voters. But remember that politicians in Coldstream and the electoral areas also made election promises, and that means they are being pulled in a different direction.