By Barb Brouwer
The feasibility of feasibility studies led to a broader discussion on introducing new services to rural areas at the Columbia Shuswap Regional District January board meeting.
At issue was an electoral area directors recommendation that the board direct staff to create a report to initiate a feasibility study for infrastructure in the North Shuswap.
Board chair Kevin Flynn pointed out two feasibility study reports – a park for the Mallory Ridge area and a community centre for Ranchero – were discussed at length at a committee of the whole meeting the previous day. He expressed concern for the amount of time the first two reports would take and asked if staff would be able to manage a third.
“I see this as being a bigger, long-term plan,” he said. “I’m wondering if there’s a short-term need to replace the fire hall and perhaps replace the role that fire hall played in being a community centre.”
Area C director Marty Gibbons took issue with what he called the vague nature of the request.
“The question of infrastructure in the North Shuswap is a huge topic and should be much more specific if we’re going to ask something of staff,” he said, referring to the extensive damage caused by last summer’s Bush Creek East Wildfire.
Chief administrative officer John MacLean explained the infrastructure request for the North Shuswap was a fairly general one and noted there is a path forward to a more refined and concise study that would include resource allocation issues and time commitment.
In response to Gibbons’ query regarding who would pay for an Area F feasibility study, MacLean explained that, as always, initial funding would be drawn from a regional service feasibility fund. At the point the service was established, the cost would be paid back to the fund.
“There are resources to develop information to be presented to the public in an assent process, and if the public does approve a new service, the first thing to come out of that service is the cost to be paid back to the feasibility service,” he said. “If the public does not approve the service, the cost is absorbed by the region; that is the nature of the feasibility reserve, it comes from taxation.”
Area F director Jay Simpson pointed out there is currently no framework in the regional district to allow for even an initial discussion.
“Electoral areas, in general, have limited resources and are limited in even having the ability to look at providing services of this nature,” he said, calling the regional district model frustrating. “If we can explore the path that will allow us to get to the point to realize some of those wishes and desires that communities want, I think it will benefit all of us.”
MacLean expressed his concerns for the legislation and process entailed in developing that kind of service, but noted in the case of a study on infrastructure for Area F, a more straightforward study on a separate community centre would identify how much land would be needed and what it would cost to build a standalone facility rather than include space in the new fire hall.
In terms of the broader issue of introducing new services in electoral areas, MacLean said there is value in reporting back to electoral area directors and board on the legislation and best practices, and how the regional district goes about offering community services.
“There is always going to be frustration because we can’t do anything without assent from the public,” he said, noting that while some people are committed to doing things to benefit their communities there are others who don’t, and that is reflected in whether a new service can be introduced.
MacLean explained that for all three feasibility reports that will be brought to the February board meeting, staff will include how much each study will cost and what staff resources will be needed.
“Then you can make a decision about whether you want to support a feasibility study,” he said, agreeing that while it might be a challenge, the report to explore a feasibility study for infrastructure in the North Shuswap should be presented at the February board meeting.