Monday, February 26, 2024
February 26, 2024

NSSWD should explore merger with CRD

By GARY HOLMAN

SALT SPRING CRD DIRECTOR

I’d like to respond to several opinion pieces in last week’s Driftwood.

Firstly, regarding the North Salt Spring Waterworks District (NSSWD) and Capital Regional District discussion, the Driftwood editorial stating that “remaining independent of the CRD might end up costing a bit more, but it could well be worth it” should more correctly read “might end up costing NSSWD ratepayers millions more.” 

While there have been some project management issues for smaller CRD water districts, the infrastructure and gas tax funding they’ve received to upgrade their systems has more than offset any additional costs. The biggest problem smaller CRD water districts have is diseconomies of scale, i.e., few ratepayers to cover the costs of aging infrastructure. 

NSSWD has considerable management and operating capacity, and therefore conversion to a CRD utility would be more of a merger. In fact, CRD contracts with NSSWD to operate several of their small water districts. By cutting off discussions after only several meetings, we were unable to explore how delegated authority within the CRD (as in the case of the CRD water supply commission) could address NSSWD concerns about local control. A NSSWD/CRD “merger” would consolidate water service delivery here, an important step for our somewhat fragmented governance. 

The province has made an important commitment regarding certainty of infrastructure funding (another key NSSWD concern), namely that NSSWD would not be expected to become a CRD entity unless infrastructure funding was confirmed. This is a significant offer to NSSWD ratepayers, although they may still feel that millions in funding is insufficient to give up their “freedom.” However, shouldn’t ratepayers be given an opportunity to make that choice?

Crofton Ferry Terminal

In a letter to the editor in last week’s paper, David Courtney laments the delay in BC Ferries (BCF) upgrades to the Crofton ferry terminal (and by implication the Vesuvius terminal). Salt Spring Island’s Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC), on which I sit, has expressed similar concerns to BC Ferries. In fairness, a major factor in this delay has been the financial impact of COVID-19 on the corporation, affecting all of its infrastructure spending, not just at Crofton. 

Mr. Courtney also complains about the age and size of vessels serving the Crofton-Vesuvius route, a concern also echoed by our FAC, whose advocacy helped convince BC Ferries to bring in the Bowen Queen earlier than planned. The Bowen and the Quinsam (in service next summer) do represent improvements in capacity and on-time performance. 

Two new hybrid electrics will be brought into service by 2030, which will decant terminals more frequently, thus reducing the need for terminal expansion. The FAC and I are advocating the acceleration of hybrid electrics, to increase service levels and ultimately eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. BC Ferries has recently applied for federal funding for charging stations at the terminals, which may speed up introduction of the hybrids.

We should also not forget that BC Ferries receives tens of millions of dollars every year from the province to help cover the costs of the three terminals and ferry services for Salt Spring. Several years ago, the province also reduced fares on minor routes by 15 per cent and reinstated free fares for seniors Monday to Thursday, saving islanders millions of dollars. A new Salish-Class ferry is now operating on the Long Harbour/Tsawassen run, and a sister ship will be initiated on the Southern Gulf Islands route next year, which should also improve the level of service at Long Harbour.       

Daycare & Rec Space

Darlene Steele, president of SSPLASH, objects to the Parks and Recreation Commission recommendation and CRD decision to access $832,000 in provincial funding to add a permanent, multipurpose room onto the pool. The grant funding, part of the province’s efforts to increase access to affordable daycare, requires that part of the addition must be used for childcare for 15 years. 

The advocacy work done by Ms. Steele and SSPLASH was critical in the successful referendum for the pool. However, even though the debt for the pool will be fully paid off this year, it still requires the largest tax subsidy of any CRD service on Salt Spring. Ms. Steele rightly notes the leisure pool remains a strategic priority for PARC, although voters would have to approve a multi-million-dollar referendum and an additional operating tax subsidy. The leisure pool is planned as an addition to the back of the pool because would intrude into the riparian area in front of the building. The smaller multipurpose addition does not.

In PARC’s view, which I support, the requirement to temporarily operate the pool addition as shared daycare and recreation space is an acceptable compromise to secure a large provincial government grant. PARC will lease space to an operator, revenues which will actually help offset the pool’s operating deficit. I commend PARC for thinking outside of the box and taking advantage of a grant opportunity that will provide more rec space at the pool and benefit our community more broadly.

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