If residents want streetlights or sewer, sometimes they have to ask for them.
The process applies especially to residents in unincorporated areas – in other words, the electoral areas within the regional district.
The question then is how residents should ask. There is no easy answer, at least based on recent discussions at the Strathcona Regional District table. The item had been deferred from the March 28 meeting and came back at the May 8 board meeting where the SRD again tackled the topic of how service initiatives are established. With the aim of establishing a policy, the board had asked for direction last November about practices through which the public can request a service for their area.
Some electoral area directors have been happy with a practice by which residents approach them about the possibility of a local service – for example, streetlights on a section of road – after which the electoral director would gauge the level of community support before bringing the matter up at the board level and eventually going to referendum.
Area A Director Gerald Whalley said the system has worked well in the past, and he expressed concerns with wording that could potentially allow a small number of people within an area to put a proposal before the board, even if they are the only ones wanting a service. This, he said, could result in a referendum with costs up to $20,000 for a community.
“To go ahead with these things can be really expensive for a little community,” he told other board members. “You guys don’t have any way of judging what the community feeling is.”
Area C Director Jim Abram was also opposed to any idea of changing the practice of residents consulting directly with area directors.
“It isn’t what we do. It isn’t the way we do things,” he said. “The consultation takes place first to find out what does the public want.”
He also said the policy leaves open the possibility someone from outside an electoral area propose a service for that area.
Area D Director Brenda Leigh felt it was appropriate that electoral area services go first to electoral area services committee (EASC), comprised of the electoral area directors, rather than directly to the board. She also said there are procedures in place to ensure public support requiring measures such as petitions of people in an affected area.
She said services in her area have been set up by petition and suggested proposals need to gain majority consent.
“I’m not interested in increasing our services,” Leigh said. “We’ve got tons of service in Area D already and taxes are high enough…. I don’t want to be part of some of the municipal initiatives that are going to cost us more and give us nothing. I want just to provide basic services to the properties that they’re already getting.”
As evidence of the need for clearer, more consistent practices at the board level, Area B Director Noba Anderson cited the example of the proposed hall tax as one that has been on the agenda for years and only recently had gone to a non-binding referendum. This was after it was brought back to the SRD table almost two years ago, with much of the Cortes Island community giving input. More recently, the subsequent binding referendum has faced delays following the launch of court proceedings against Anderson over alleged conflict of interest.
“Here we are, a year-and-a-half, almost two years later, still not having resolved the matter,” she said.
Anderson asked for timelines to be built into the policy and also suggested wording go further rather than simply restating legislative requirements already in place. She suggested a “next step,” such as a working group or getting an amended version from staff. Some of the Campbell River directors such as Claire Moglove and Ron Kerr agreed the policy could be sent back to staff.
Whalley responded that he agreed some elements of the policy could work for regional services but not for electoral area services. He made a successful motion for the matter to be deferred to staff for a further report that addresses issues the electoral area directors identified.