The City of Revelstoke is holding a reverse referendum to see if the Thomas Brook water users can join the city in order to address their water issues.
The city launched an alternative approval process for the neighbourhood to be annexed, which means 10 per cent of city electors – or 567 people – must oppose the move in order to stop the process and trigger a referendum.
The Thomas Brook neighbourhood is a collection of 22 properties located in the regional district, just south of Revelstoke Mountain Resort. They draw water from Thomas Brook, a small stream on the lower part of the resort, but they have been facing significant problems ever since construction by RMR disrupted their water supply five years ago. That triggered an intervention by Interior Health, which placed the area on a boil water notice and ordered they upgrade their water system by 2018.
Last December, property owners formally asked to begin the annexation process, with 15 of 22 saying they’re interested in joining the city in an unofficial survey.
However questions were raised around the cost of doing so. The City of Revelstoke estimates it would cost about $1 million to extend its water and sewer lines to the area, the cost of which would be borne by the neighbourhood. They also face higher taxes should they join the city.
As well, some properties in the area are on their own wells and don’t use the Thomas Brook system, however they would be part of the annexation.
In March, Al McInnes, who owns the largest property in the area, wrote a letter to the city expressing concerns about the costs, noting he has a well and septic system on his property. “I support helping people get water, but not at an alarming cost to us,” he wrote.
The Columbia Shuswap Regional District sought to ease some of the burden by contributing $300,000 from the Area B Rural Revelstoke gas tax fund and the Economic Opportunity Fund.
The city says it will apply to the province so the tax rates in the neighbourhood are set at the CSRD rate for the first five years after annexation, “in order to offset the additional cost of water and sewer services to those properties.”
Finally, Dawn Low, the city’s director of corporate administration, said the city will amortize the cost over 30 years to lower the annual burden.
Ken Gibson, who has served as the leader of the Thomas Brook group, said one of the big concerns was how the costs would be divided up amongst property owners. Several options have been put forward, including dividing by frontage, like in the Big Eddy; by property size, or simply charging the same to each property owner.
“There is some concern by the larger property owners, they really don’t need the water, yet they would get hit with the heaviest tax,” said Gibson. “Before (the city) decides how to apportion it, they should sit down with the community to see if there’s something more palatable to them.”
Low said the city was still figuring out the cost of joining the city for each property owner and would be holding a meeting with the Thomas Brook water users on Sept. 8.
“We’ve done two surveys that indicate the majority of residents do want it. That’s why we’re moving forward with it,” she said.
When asked why this was a city-wide vote and not just for the Thomas Brook residents, Low said it was because the annexation could have an impact on the whole community.
“The alternative approval process is the entire community because it affects the whole community, not financially, but then the community becomes larger,” she said. “The cost for the services will be 100 per cent paid for by the benefitting property owners.”
Anyone opposed to the annexation has until Monday, September 26, at 4:30 p.m. to notify city hall. 567 out of 5,664 eligible voters must register their disapproval to stop the move and trigger a referendum.
Correction: The initial version of this article quote Dawn Low, the city’s director of corporate administration saying the referendum was across the entire community because it would impact the city financially. In fact, the cost of extending water & sewer to the Thomas Brook neighbourhood will be paid for by the benefitting property owners. The mistake was the result of a poor transcription of her comments. We apologize and regret any problems it has caused.