Area E director Vicki Gee held a town hall meeting on Thursday, Feb. 19 at the Rock Creek fair grounds pavilion. Joining her were RDKB staff members Maureen Forster – executive assistant, Beth Burget – General Manager of Finance and Alan Stanley – General Manager of Environmental Services. The public meeting is required each year to brief the ratepayers on the annual budget and five-year plan. In going over the budget Gee explained increases are being considered this year for building inspection and economic development, while the budget for general government and administrative services is expected to go down.
Gee opened by giving a brief overview of how regional district government works and the services they can provide to rural residents. The grant in aid budget is one of the services provided in the annual budget and Gee explained that she expects to have about $20,000 less in that fund this year than the $105,000 distributed last year. She explained the amount is less this year because the account balance being carried forward in 2015 is smaller than last year. Gee explained some changes she is making to the Area E grant in aid process. She said she will be working closely with organizations that apply for money; trying to get people to plan ahead so she will have a better idea at the beginning of the year how much groups will be asking for.
Gee said she is trying to advance the RDKB regional park and trail service as the spearhead that will help drive a unified rail trail project through Area E. She explained that the Area E budget has some $6,000 set aside for regional parks and recreation and she would like to use some of that to hire a part-time trail project coordinator to help pull together all of the rail trail projects across the region. On Feb. 5 Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations sent three representatives to a meeting in Midway that provided an overview of a partnership program between the province and local groups to ensure that the rail trail corridor remains clear, passable, useable and in good condition. Gee said she saw a lot of enthusiasm at that meeting and wants to build upon it.
Gee said that, while she is not ready at this time to do anything yet, she is working on a proposal that would see some Area E properties contribute to the operation of the Midway Public Library. Currently only Village of Midway residents directly support the library through their taxes. Non-residents are charged a user fee. But Gee would like to see the library made more financially secure by having nearby Area E residents contribute through their annual property taxes as a specified service. This is similar to a service that provides revenue to the Greenwood Public Library from Area E residents living near that municipality.
Projects and issues being worked on this year that touch upon Area E include the Solid Waste Management Plan review, implementation of the Kettle River Watershed Management Plan, the Boundary Agriculture Plan, expansion of broadband service in the rural area, an update of the Official Community plan for Big White and the proposed unified rail trail project.
Alan Stanley, General Manager of Environmental Services for the regional district gave an overview of the Solid Waste Management Plan review currently being undertaken.
Water was the major topic as discussion was opened up to the people who attended the town hall meeting. One resident expressed concern that water meters might one day become mandatory on rural wells.
Stanley replied that for many years there has been a lack of protection for ground water. The province last year passed the Water Sustainability Act but regulations are still being drafted for it. He explained that this is a provincial initiative and outside of the authority of the regional district.
Several questions came from residents living in the Sidley Mountain area where the owners of Miller Springs have made application to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) for changes to their operation. Area resident Don Halverson asked if the regional district had any authority or jurisdiction in such applications. “I would like to find out if the system is capable of handling that and who has the authority and capability to find out whether that groundwater system is capable of that [level of water extraction].”
Gee acknowledged the issue is a very complex one. She said she has been in conversation with MLA Linda Larson, RDKB CAO John MacLean and RDKB Deputy CAO Mark Andison. “One piece of advice pretty clearly from the regional district is that there is no planning – we have no community planning and no zoning in much of Area E,” said Gee. She said there are a lot of unanswered questions and they are trying to pull the pieces together so they can find a way forward. Gee acknowledged the need to know the science behind it, “We need to have quantification of how much water is there.”
She suggested pulling the residents of at least the Sidley area together to talk about planning and what that might look like. In the meantime the Miller Springs application will be forwarded to the ALC along with all letters of comment the regional district has received.
Another Sidley area resident expressed concern about the uncertainty of the situation. With regulations still being drafted, she worried corporate laws may supersede the wishes of local citizens and the needs of agriculture.
“We are just at the start of it and we need to pull together all levels of government to answer these questions,” said Gee.
Kettle Valley residents complained of abandoned vehicles near the river that are flooded during the spring runoff. They were encouraged to contact their MLA, the conservation officer’s Report All Poachers and Polluters hotline (RAPP) and the media if necessary.
Mosquito control in Westbridge was also raised – local residents have been asking that something be done for a number of years. It was suggested from the floor that, as well as seeking a mosquito control program, that bat houses be put up in the area.