BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Setting boundaries

Within certain circles, it’s commonly known as death by 1,000 cuts

Within certain circles, it’s commonly known as death by 1,000 cuts.

Increasingly, representatives for the North Okanagan’s electoral areas are concerned about the cumulative impact that a revolving door of small annexations into adjacent municipalities has on the viability of their jurisdictions.

“There’s a fair bit of assessment being transferred,” said Mike Macnabb, BX-Silver Star director.

With every lot that is absorbed into a municipality, the electoral area’s tax base shrinks. That means existing residents are left to pick up even more financial burden to provide necessary services.

Particularly, according to a new annexation impact study, fire departments in electoral areas suffer because there is less money to purchase costly equipment.

The study states that in Area B (BX-Swan Lake), fire protection makes up 12 per cent of the total tax levy while it is 22 per cent in Area D (rural Lumby).

The other factor to consider is that easy access to some neighbourhoods gets cut off for firefighters because other neighbourhoods are now in a municipality.

Beyond taxes, there is the concern that incremental annexation places pressure on agricultural land to be developed and community identity is undermined.

“Concern was raised that annexations were fragmenting communities and the social fabric of electoral areas,” states the study.

And that is fair comment as many residents do associate their electoral areas as communities — whether it is Cherryville, Silver Star or Whitevale. In Area F, numerous distinct communities abound, including Mara, Grindrod and Ashton Creek.

Identity is not something that exists simply within municipal boundaries.

The challenge is that regional districts and electoral area directors have no say over the annexation of individual lots.

Presently, a property owner applies to a municipality for annexation (the common reasons are to replace a failing septic system with sewer or to develop). The municipality traditionally endorses the application and then submits it to the provincial government, where the final decision is made.

“There is no role for the electoral areas on input. We can say we don’t agree but it doesn’t carry any weight with the province,” said Bob Fleming, BX-Swan Lake director.

Can you imagine the furor that would arise from a municipality, such as Vernon, if it had no say over a portion of its community being swallowed up by another? But with electoral areas, it’s become the norm to treat them as second-class jurisdictions.

The North Okanagan’s EA directors are calling for a protocol where they and their municipal counterparts sit down and hammer out firm boundaries and if annexations do occur, that some form of financial compensation for lost taxes take place.

Macnabb would like municipalities to stop accepting annexation applications from electoral area residents.

“We are good neighbours so stop doing this to us. Show some respect,” he said.

And Macnabb has a valid point.

Until the province eliminates EAs or entire electoral areas decide willingly to join municipalities, then there needs to be mutual recognition of the various jurisdictions and their commonalities and differences. Not everyone wants to live in a municipality and there are major implications for cities that take on large rural areas.

Finally, what’s going on in the North Okanagan isn’t unique. There is so much interest in the issue, that six other regional districts, including Metro Vancouver, helped fund the study.