Greater Vernon does not have a single municipal government. What does our area now have in terms of governance?
Greater Vernon has two mayors, 12 councillors and two electoral area representatives. These 16 elected individuals are supported by their respective municipal and regional district staffs. The administrative employees strive to keep things running smoothly. The staff are to provide recommendations to the elected officials who then set policy and budgets. Sounds pretty good, so what is problem?
Four separate jurisdictions is an expensive way to govern only 50,000 people living in such close proximity. This situation is inherently inefficient because of duplication of staff and services. Some costs, like policing are not being shared equitably. Businesses and individuals trying to invest in Greater Vernon often face a labyrinth of obstacles perpetuated by the number of local jurisdictions. The frustration can be palpable.
To be fair, efforts have been made to co-operate among the local jurisdictions.
Historically, an advantage was seen in working together to provide services to residents of the area that were shared across local political boundaries; the Greater Vernon parks and recreation function being the prime example of such an endeavor. The tricky part of these types of agreements is the working out of the details. Who owns what? Who does what? Who pays for what? And just who is in charge? Questions all more readily answered if there was only one local government.
Recently, our elected officials at GVAC have spent the better part of a year endeavouring to address anew just such questions. The result is the new parks agreement that separates us more than it unites us. It creates more players and boundaries instead of reducing them. During their protracted negotiations, they missed asking a question obvious to many. We are one community. Shouldn’t we be governed as such?
This question is the elephant in the room for anyone that has had to deal with our local governments.
The option of one local municipal government has been recently raised by the Greater Vernon Governance Society. The society has launched an online petition that has at its heart, the premise that things could be run better and more efficiently if there was one municipal government in our area. For many individuals, amalgamation is an emotional issue and elicits an emotional response. Though honest and understandable, this response is not desirable. A more thoughtful and detailed approach is required so that a wise decision can be made.
The KPMG report to Vernon council pointed to efficiencies and cost savings that could be realized by the amalgamation of the local governments into one entity. Though the report lacked detail, KPMG recommended the option be pursued. Council chose a quick, emotional response instead of thoughtful investigation. No action was taken. Lack of interest from the community was cited as the justification for doing nothing.
The ongoing interest in the GVGS online petition shows that Vernon City Council was mistaken. Citizens from all areas of Greater Vernon have signed this petition. These taxpayers would like to see a detailed proposal outlining both benefits and pitfalls of amalgamation put to a referendum. The province’s policy is that such a referendum would only come if sufficient public support is manifest. So what then should be done?
The answer is clear. We are over governed here in the sunny North Okanagan. If you think, as I do, that the option of one government for Greater Vernon should be thoroughly examined and then put to a vote, make your wishes known and sign the online petition at greatervernongovernance.ca