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Trustee and CRD director state incorporation positions
Two of Salt Spring’s three elected officials have made their positions regarding incorporation public in advance of the Sept. 9 vote.
Trustee George Grams and Wayne McIntyre, Salt Spring’s electoral area director to the Capital Regional District, have issued statements containing their opinions about the island’s current form of governance and the option of incorporation.
Trustee Peter Grove stated last week that he will not add his personal opinion to the discussion despite pressure from both sides of the debate to do so. He confirmed that position today.
Grams and McIntyre said they wanted to wait until the Aug. 30 official debate at Gulf Islands Secondary School was over before making statements about the issue.
Grams, who also sits on the Islands Trust Executive Committee as a vice-chair, noted that while Islands Trust policy discourages trustees from becoming involved in “controversial local issues in an area outside a local trust area or island municipality that he or she represents unless the elected official first consults with the local trustees or municipal trustees,” it is appropriate for local trustees to speak to issues on their own island.
“I have refrained from expressing my views on the optimal local governance model for our island for the five years the current governance review has been in process, but that review is over and we are only a few days away from casting our vote,” he said. “I have purposefully refrained from campaigning and am not doing so now, but I consider it entirely appropriate that I inform the community that elected me how I intend to vote in the referendum and the reasons why. My position statement is made in my capacity as an island resident, not in my capacity as a member of Trust Council or the Trust Executive Committee.”
McIntyre said Monday, “With the increasing pressures to say something as an elected representative of the community and the number of statements being made that were confusing or in some cases incorrect, I felt I could add value to the process based on my direct involvement with municipalities as an elected municipal councillor, a community volunteer and a contractor covering decades, along with two terms as the Salt Spring electoral area director to the CRD. Before I presented my view, I discussed the matter with the CRD corporate officer and there was no issue for me to express my personal opinion. Based on feedback, a significant majority have thanked me for my insight.”
The North Salt Spring Waterworks District board of trustees has previously come out in favour of incorporation as being the best option for its ratepayers and reiterated the position through a letter mailed to its customers last week. The Salt Spring Island Fire Protection District board, which governs an improvement district like the NSSWD, decided to not take a position either way.
George Grams Position Statement Regarding the Salt Spring Incorporation Vote:
IMAGINE . . .
Imagine the provincial government with no premier, no de facto chief executive, no provincial “ambassador” to communicate B.C.’s priorities and plans to other provinces and levels of government.
Imagine, too, if we were to retain the ministries but eliminate the cabinet, so coordination between ministries ceases. Instead, each ministry would set its own priorities without reference to the others, and each would be responsible for setting its own tax levels.
Imagine we abolished the Ministry of Finance, so the government had no department to provide financial and taxation advice to the ministries or the cabinet, and the government had no ability to undertake a coordinated approach to overall taxation and spending within the province.
Transpose the above on Salt Spring and that’s our current governance structure. With a taxation base for local services of $15 million, we have no mayor (de facto CEO and ambassador), no council (local equivalent of a cabinet) and no finance department to collect and manage our multi-million-dollar tax base.
Instead, we have eight independent service providers that never meet to discuss and agree priorities or taxation implications and don’t prepare coordinated plans for service delivery. Each agency sets its own targets in isolation of other community needs, without consideration of the island’s overall ability to fund improvements. This is the heart of our unique governance structure which has led to chronic problems that defeat our ability to find solutions. Below are some examples.
• the worst affordable housing crisis in the CRD area;
• a water management crisis that has precipitated a $40-million lawsuit against NSSWD, the Trust and a non-profit society and paralyzed development over nearly half the island;
• improvement districts operating huge budgets under rules and regulations that deny
islanders the same level of scrutiny and transparency that apply to a municipality. The result – a union contract negotiated without legal or professional advice that has hooped this island’s taxpayers indefinitely;
• capital expenditure commitments of $28 million to fund essential water infrastructure upgrades with no possibility of grant support;
• a potholed and poorly maintained roads system dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists for which we’re taxed way more than we get back;
• no ability to green our transport system through such measures as increasing pedestrianization in Ganges or legalizing low-speed electric vehicles;
• decades of failed attempts and tens of thousands of wasted dollars in abortive costs to provide a decent ball park for our youth. Still no ball park;
• the mismanagement of the replacement liquid waste plant in Burgoyne leading to the resignation of the entire CRD commission and a 15-year wait for a workable replacement;
• a harbour boardwalk conceived and partly built decades ago that has defied all attempts to complete.
We’ve had 43 years to refine our current governance format, without much success. There’s now general acceptance it has major deficiencies that just can’t be repaired. The choice electors face is to continue with a system with recognized major defects, or to adopt an incorporated model that offers significant advantages in addition to fixing existing weaknesses, but that has some risks attached which have to be weighed against the benefits.
The risks I mostly hear expressed are those that apply if a council were to make bad decisions. Would we be victims of unsustainable growth? Could our council be hijacked by developers? Would a council raise property taxes disproportionately? Would a council be less environmentally focused or weaken our links with the Trust?
IMAGINE . . .
Bad politicians make bad decisions regardless of the governance model within which they function. Where I believe incorporation can make a difference is in enabling implementation of good decisions made by an enlightened council. Here we have the skills, the culture, the values and the will to be one of the greenest communities in Canada, but we’re obstructed from going the distance because our current governance model makes it so difficult to get anything done.
Imagine, instead, a council finally solving chronic problems but taking us further, of greening our built environment so we become an example to the rest of Canada, with the lowest ecological footprint on our continent.
Imagine a council setting policies, bylaws and regulations that do more than pay lip service to affordable homes, net-zero energy dwellings, alternative energy solutions on a community-wide basis, pedestrian and cycle-friendly streets and a meaningful strategy for transitioning to a green economy.
Imagine treating our sewage sludge in a new facility that relies on structured wetlands and reed beds, a man-made habitat that supports wildlife and promotes biodiversity.
Imagine being able to go further than the Trust in preservation and protection through measures such as an eco-asset strategy and meaningful tree protection.
Imagine the benefits to this island had there been a council that would have helped Salt Spring Coffee Company achieve its dream, of growing organic food under glass using waste heat from the roaster, of providing courses in organic, fair-trade business practices to other Canadian companies from a LEED gold business campus and learning centre.
I don’t fear the decisions a council would make or the future our councillors would help us shape because I trust my fellow islanders. I have faith in our values and in our collective judgment. I believe the referendum presents us with an opportunity to grasp the tools with which to tackle perennial island problems and to better prepare our island for an ecologically secure future as fully functioning members at the heart of a federation I am committed to, the Islands Trust.
That is why I will be casting my vote for hope and change.
Wayne McIntyre Position Statement Regarding the Salt Spring Incorporation Vote:
The Salt Spring Island governance referendum vote will be held on Sept. 9. The two options will be to remain with the status quo or to move to a municipal model.
Many have asked for my opinion, which I believe is appropriate to share. My experience in local government is extensive and I believe as a politician on Salt Spring is unique. I have had first-hand experience as an elected local politician in both systems of local governance, first as a municipal councillor in the Village of Lions Bay and second as a two-term electoral area director for Salt Spring Island. I also have had decades of experience in various capacities in both provincial and municipal governance matters.
I will be voting yes and will give a few very specific examples of why. Most will agree that the most effective governance models have a structure appropriate for their community and elected officials who support moving their community priorities forward. In addition, crucial to effective local government are strategic planning, priority setting, local decision making, centralized and overarching financial planning and service support.
Our current governance model has serious weaknesses in all of these areas. Three of the largest budgets impacting the Salt Spring taxpayer are the CRD, Islands Trust and the fire district. Sadly, Salt Spring Island doesn’t have a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary strategic plan and the present system of budgeting and financial planning for Salt Spring is done in silos. As an example, the CRD and Islands Trust have local government oversight but the fire department does not, as the process is led by a board elected only by property owners, disenfranchising many residents. The latter is also an improvement district and not eligible for senior government funding for capital projects. None of the main budgets affecting the Salt Spring taxpayer are prioritized, reviewed and agreed to in concert, i.e. between the CRD, Islands Trust and the fire department and decision making is fractured and teamwork limited.
The CRD budget is driven by service requirements with separate budgets, and approval by a 24-person board of directors is required, with only one board member from Salt Spring. All these budgets are set and managed separately. In the municipal model, individual budgets are set, approved and managed by a locally elected council with oversight responsibility and local, open meetings. Municipal revenues are considered in most cases general revenue and if circumstances change it is possible to consider moving money to a different budget centre or centres, unlike in our present model. The present system is complex, inflexible and formal oversight is off island.
Support for Salt Spring services is split between resources on Salt Spring for infrastructure such as waste management, CRD water districts, parks and recreation services. While we have successfully provided more resources on island with a local CRD senior manager and an on-island engineer, we still have a heavy dependency on CRD headquarters resources and bear the costs when this support comes to Salt Spring as three hours plus of travel time for each is included in the Salt Spring service billings. I should qualify that by saying that CRD headquarters provides some great support — when we can get it — but integrating more service support resources, including administration, on Salt Spring rather than in Victoria would build a stronger team and be more effective.
Salt Spring Island governance weaknesses need to be addressed using a proven model for a community of our size. The choice is now up to the Salt Spring voters. Focus on the facts and review the material contained on the website at www.latest.incorporationstudy.com
Above all, please vote. It is our future, help define it.