By BOB MOFFATT
Salt Spring Islanders are being asked to embrace another layer of government by a Capital Regional District (CRD) director after a scathing independent governance review and indictment of the existing Islands Trust and its dysfunctional record.
CRD director Gary Holman and his anti-incorporation supporters have decided after three and a half years, to embark on a poor substitute, a local community commission (LCC). As the adage goes, there’s nothing more terrifying than hearing “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
An LCC is a 30-year-old artifact in the Local Government Act not intended to be used in a community the size of Salt Spring. It’s impractical and rarely used, even in small communities.
The proponents believe it will avoid the more costly and complex issues like policing and roads. For most municipal councils, these two, along with water systems, fire/emergency services and land use, are typically the core functions. By ignoring these critical areas, it’s difficult to understand how that enhances the functionality of an LCC.
More serious is that the entity will not have explicit authority over legal affairs (bylaws, contracts etc.) or financial affairs (taxing, service fees, borrowing) and crucially, human resources (employees). Without access to a full complement of powers, its usefulness is crippled. However, taxes will escalate regardless.
Residents can expect to pay more taxes for endless meetings that have no measurable outcomes or benchmarks. In fact, meetings and higher costs are likely to be the principal product of an LCC.
An LCC is just like any commission where the real power and head office will remain in Victoria, regardless of what authority the CRD decides to delegate. The single elected CRD director from Salt Spring will be the sole representative on the 26-member CRD board.
The last thing the island needs is another layer of government. Among other things, it will oversee some CRD services. However, we already pay taxes to the CRD, which oversees an extensive suite of services. There is no justification to elect four commissioners to oversee the overseers. It would be a surprise indeed if the CRD thinks this is a good idea.
The commissioners will supposedly have the same mandate as the CRD director. It’s been reported they will be paid according to a typical municipal grid where councillors might receive as much as $40,000 a year. There are also expenses, admin support, office space and benefit packages. It’s a shocking amount for a workload that is a shadow of a municipal councillor.
It’s not as if government is in short supply on the island. A resident could devote 24 hours a day following the activities of several commissions, government agencies, roads, policing, water and sewer systems, improvement districts, task forces, NGOs, the Islands Trust, and still not understand how local government works.
An LCC is another concoction in a seemingly inexhaustible list of government glut.
The handful of LCCs that exist are in tiny rural communities. Salt Spring, with 12,000 residents, has far more at stake. I believe taxes will rise, multiple agencies will continue to exist and residents will be exasperated that there will still be no single governing authority to turn to. It should be rejected.