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Regional district opts for referendum on funding for Shuswap Watershed Council

CSRD to seek approval from B.C. government to hold referendum
The Shuswap Watershed Council describes itself as a “collaborative, non-regulatory group that focuses on strategic initiatives to protect, maintain and enhance water quality and to promote safe recreation in the Shuswap. (Shuswap Watershed Council image)

The fate of a non-profit organization tasked with protecting the Shuswap watershed may be up to voters in the regional district.

At its May 18 meeting, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) board agreed to pursue a referendum to determine if a parcel tax will continue to be used to fund the activities of the Shuswap Watershed Council (SWC).

In 2015, the board adopted with elector assent a bylaw to contribute funds to the SWC, CSRD administrator John MacLean explained at last month’s board meeting. The bylaw included a sunset clause requiring voter assent for the SWC to continue operation beyond 2020. Due to the pandemic, the board sought and received permission to extend the service without the assent of the public until Dec. 31, 2023. After much discussion, MacLean said a new service establishment bylaw would be created and brought to the board’s next meeting for consideration.

On May 18, the board was presented with the bylaw and considered options for how the service would be funded, and how public assent would be sought.

Directors voted unanimously in favour of taking the issue to a full assent vote/referendum for all eligible voters in Electoral Areas C, D, E, F and G, as well as the District of Sicamous.

The City of Salmon Arm and other participants have different methods for paying for the service. Kevin Flynn, board chair and City of Salmon Arm councillor, explained when the SWC was first set up council made the decision to pay into the service, about $9 per parcel. Salmon Arm director and city councillor, Tim Lavery, suggested council is aware a timely decision would be needed on funding the SWC.

A majority of the board voted in favour of continuing to fund the SWC through a parcel tax at a rate applied equally to affected electoral areas and Sicamous. Currently, the parcel tax is $9.07 per property. In a May 24 media release, the CSRD estimated the new maximum parcel tax rate would be $9.64 per year for each taxable parcel in the proposed service area.

The board was unanimous in voting to take the matter to referendum, as opposed to using an alternative approval process (AAP) where only eligible voters opposed to the service are required to respond.

“Less than a year ago we had an election and I don’t know why this wasn’t put forward at that point in time,” commented Electoral Area C director Marty Gibbons.

While the referendum costs more, $75,000 as opposed to $2,500 for the AAP, directors viewed the referendum as a “solid investment in the democratic process.”

Directors also discussed the idea of individual electoral areas voting on whether to contribute. However, MacLean noted, should the service fail in one area, it automatically fails for all.

Read more: Concerns arise over question to continue Shuswap Watershed Council

Read more: Shuswap Watershed Council to continue without voter approval

Electoral Area G director Natalya Melnychuk urged a holistic view of the watershed, explaining how issues in the watershed don’t stop at any one electoral area’s boundary.

“The hydrological interconnection between our upland and waterfront owners and surface water and groundwater, that exists, regardless of whether you have an area surrounding the lake or not,” said Melnychuk.

The CSRD said provincial approval for the referendum will likely take six to eight weeks. If approved, more information will be provided regarding the voting date and opportunities.

“The Shuswap Watershed Council is a non-profit group focused on protecting, maintaining and enhancing water quality and promoting safe recreation in the Shuswap,” reads the CSRD media release. “Members represent the CSRD, Thompson Nicola Regional District, Regional District of North Okanagan, City of Salmon Arm, District of Sicamous and the Secwépemc Nation.”

The Fraser Basin Council, a provincial non-government organization, is contracted to provide staff services to the Shuswap Watershed Council until March 2024.
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