Local residents had plenty of questions and feedback for Regional District of Kootenay Boundary Area E/West Boundary Director Vicki Gee at a town hall meeting on March 3 at the Rock Creek fairgrounds.
About two dozen people attended the meeting. Some of the hot button topics were the proposed Rock Creek fire protection referendum, new wildfire forced evacuation laws, and parks and trails stewardship. Gee and staff also reviewed the 2016-19 five-year financial plan and explained how the RDKB works. Gee said the budget will be voted on at the March 24 RDKB meeting.
“A lot of the PowerPoint was about how regional districts work and how the different services work and how taxes work,” said Gee. “There weren’t people calling for changes on what was presented but there were people asking about when we were going to referendum on the Rock Creek fire protection issue.”
Rock Creek fire protection referendum
Gee said she expects there to be a decision and information on dates and locations coming in September or October. “That wasn’t soon enough,” she said. “They wanted it sooner but I pointed out that taxation can’t start until 2017 anyways. We’ve got 2016 to be able to pull the pieces together and present the case in favour of this service. We want to do it right because there have already been three referendums that haven’t passed.”
Gee said currently there is no fire department in Rock Creek. She said after the last referendum failed Midway Volunteer Fire Department (MVFD) worked with community members from the Kettle Valley and they became volunteers with the MFD. “So people would pay a fee to get coverage,” she said. “If you paid your X number of dollars and you had a fire on your property they would come out. If you didn’t pay they wouldn’t come out. This deal was done in desparation after a failed referendum.”
Gee said there are about 16 members of the MFD from the Kettle Valley at present. She said they are looking at setting up a regional fire service that includes Midway and the Kettle Valley, and includes a satellite hall in Rock Creek.
“This isn’t just the regional district working with me to put a proposal together and to go to referendum,” said Gee. “This is the regional district, myself and Midway village working together trying to establish a regional service.”
Gee said the three failed referendums was for a stand-alone fire hall and fire service in Rock Creek at a hefty cost for starting a whole fire department. “With a regional service and only having a satellite fire hall just to house fire trucks will be a lot cheaper,” she said.
“Ultimately, it’ll be up to the voters. I really think it’s a completely different model this time in terms of cost.”
Another hot topic that came up was the proposed new laws from the province regarding mandatory evacuation during wildfires.
“People are concerned about the proposal from the province to make evacuation forced, to authorize RCMP to forcibly remove people who refuse to evacuate; to put them in a cell; and to charge them later for the cost of doing so,” said Gee. “That’s not going over very well in our area.”
Gee said the new proposal would be part of upgrading emergency management legislation and that people can lodge complaints and comments through EngageBC. “They’re in the public engagement part of that,” she said.
Gee said she is personally against any forced evacuation. “I’m very highly opposed to the government making it forced,” she said. “Not because I don’t want people to evacuate, I do want people to evacuate, but we’ll never get much RCMP in our area because of the size of our area. I’d much rather they spend their time notifying people of a fire coming then have to deal with people not wanting to leave their property.”
Gee said the RDKB have said they would not risk firefighters to save people who are not evacuating.
Parks and trails
One of the changes in the RDKB Area E budget is an increase in funding to the regional parks and trails budget. “We want to put more resources into the Trails to the Boundary Society to help them manage the rail trail,” said Gee.
The Trails to the Boundary Society, which was incorporated in 2015, have a partnership agreement with Rec Sites and Trails BC for stewardship of the rail trail from around Eholt to McCulloch Creek near Big White.
“Last year we put a bit of money in there but they need more resources,” said Gee. “It’s important because it’s a huge asset for a number of reasons: It’s a big tourist draw and, of course, locals like to use it as well.”
Gee said the money she is looking at is not a huge amount. “Right now, on our taxes in Area E we’re paying $1 per $100,000 assessment,” she said. “I’m looking at doubling that. It’s not a huge deal. Literally, people will pay $2 or $3 more on their taxes.”
Gee said the money would go toward developing signage and maintaining.
Facts about Area E
There are 1,970 residents in RKDB Area E (6 per cent of the total population in the RDKB). Area E consists of 4,308 square kilometres (26 per cent of the RDKB). The assessed value of Area E is $864,789,832 (17.5 per cent of RDKB). There are 1,436 dwellings in Area E (eight per cent of RDKB).