Local community commission idea explored

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Salt Spring Islanders will soon be hearing a lot more about the local community commission (LCC) governance model, which will likely be put to a referendum during fall local government elections.

A move from a single director to a director plus four elected members overseeing Capital Regional District (CRD) operations on the island is being studied by a group of Salt Spring Islanders and advocated for by the island’s current CRD director Gary Holman. How an LCC could look, as well as benefits and unintended consequences, were discussed at a Feb. 25 virtual ASK Salt Spring public meeting with 21 people attending. 

An LCC both broadens representation and makes dealings of local government more transparent, Holman said. Discussion and votes on CRD matters would be done at public meetings, whereas now many decisions, including where grants in aid and gas tax funding are distributed, are made by the director and staff.

An LCC could be anywhere from purely an advisory body to having extensive delegated authority, depending on bylaws that establish it. All powers and authorities of a regional district, except for passing bylaws and final approval of items such as budgets and financial plans, can be done by an LCC, explained Brian Webster, a Salt Spring Parks and Recreation Commission member and one of the residents working on an LCC discussion paper.

“In my personal opinion, this is a wasted exercise if it is simply creating one big advisory commission either to add to, which would be the worst-case scenario, or to replace a bunch of current advisory commissions,” he said. “The whole purpose of doing this is to have Salt Spring people on Salt Spring Island — a diverse range of democratically elected people — making more of the decisions.” Webster added that a “timid version” of an LCC is “just another layer of local government” and would not be acceptable to voters.

Implementing an LCC could involve consolidating some of the commissions that oversee economic development, parks and recreation, transportation and liquid waste disposal on the island, Holman said. As the largest and most complicated of the commissions, Holman said there is an advantage to keeping the parks and recreation commission. He also wouldn’t support the consolidation of entities overseeing the island’s sewer systems and water districts as they already have a group of commissioners elected to represent their ratepayers and he wouldn’t want to eliminate that relationship.

The opposition to an LCC could come from residents who strongly supported incorporation and who may see it as defusing the interest in incorporation, said Linda Adams, a former Islands Trust CAO who is also working on the discussion paper.

An LCC avoids one of the greatest concerns of incorporation, which is taking on the cost and liability of the island’s road network. Adams pointed out that the island’s roads are 25.1 metres in length per capita, which is 2.3 times the B.C. average.

“Our municipal government, if we had created one of those, would be absolutely overwhelmed with some of those costs and would be doing little else,” she said.

Holman agreed that with extreme weather events becoming more frequent, the cost of emergency repairs could swamp a municipality financially.

While larger communities are not usually the ones to establish LCCs, the challenges of incorporation and the unique circumstances Salt Spring finds itself in with a large land area and a small population could be things that make the LCC option a “made in Salt Spring solution,” Adams said.

Questions were raised about how an LCC would impact and interact with the Islands Trust. This is a relationship prescribed in legislation, Adams explained, with the Islands Trust Act laying out the role of the Trust in land-use planning and regulation as well as its relationship with regional districts. While no legislation will change, Adams said it could become easier for the Trust to collaborate and coordinate with the LCC as a single body rather than many separate commissions.

“I do worry about the potential for some head butting around, for example, land-use issues,” Holman said, so ensuring the existing relationship is reflected explicitly in the LCC’s establishment bylaw is critical.

Keeping land-use decisions by the Islands Trust separate from the servicing decisions of the CRD has some advantages, Adams said, such as avoiding the push by municipalities to increase the density of development in order to afford policing, roads and other costs. 

“Our system that keeps those things separate is part of what’s enabled us to not get kind of sucked into that train and not go that route of increasing development in order to afford services,” she said.

An LCC may encourage more women to run for office, Mairi Welman said, “because women like collaborating and a lot of women are terrified to run for office right now because of how toxic the atmosphere can be. I think there’s safety in numbers.”

Holman noted that the chairs of all the island-wide CRD commissions are currently women. 

Ron Cooke advocated for younger representation on a future LCC, as the elders on Salt Spring may not experience the same pressure young people do.

Nejmah Guermoudi said “diversifying voices and ensuring there’s space for everyone” is a key concern in efforts to move towards unity on the island.  

Holman advocated for a modest stipend for elected members of the LCC, similar to what mayor and council compensation might look like. Currently, electoral area directors have a base salary of $40,626 plus expenses, not including remuneration for their roles on CRD boards. 

A stipend, Adams said, “hopefully would enable people from all walks of life” to run. 

When finished, the discussion paper will be reviewed by the CRD and province for accuracy before it goes to the public.

Holman said an advisory committee would be set up to oversee public consultation and unless there is overwhelming opposition, which he does not expect, the question will be put to voters on Oct. 15. Should it pass, work would start on forming the LCC and members would be elected in 2023. 

2 Comments
  1. shelley mahoney says

    Crawling out of the woodwork to ensure we don’t start thinking for ourselves is our previous Islands Trust CAO spreading her “development fears” far and wide. How does that saying go? Fool me once . . . .

    Salt Spring needs a real government, not a super committee with no authority.

    The logic is, accept a half-assed idea — an LCC — which will cost more and not really have authority to do anything, so we don’t jeopardize the failed experiment that is the Islands Trust.

    Accept all of this dysfunction and the consequences in our community just so we don’t have to pay for roads?
    How can Bowen Island with less than 4,000 people pay for 135 km of roads without going bankrupt? They have a planning department and are in charge of their own roads.

    SSI has over 11,000 people and 125 kms of roads…fairly certain we can do it folks with the knowledge that a stitch in time saves nine and that the province is helping with emergency repairs.

  2. Nigel Desbottes says

    We do not need another level of local government on this island with its present multiple levels for 11000 residents.

    Let us adopt the Municipality governance way and be real masters of ourselves and this island once and for all!

    And get rid of the islands trust fiasco with their tree cutting proposals. Are they that power mad? We should not be required to enjoy soviet style politics on this island.

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