Sunday, September 08, 2013

Petition targets amalgamation vote

By Richard Rolke - Vernon Morning Star Published: September 08, 2013 1:00 AM
There’s pressure to place Greater Vernon’s future in the hands of residents.  Until October 31, a petition will be circulated asking local and provincial authorities to develop a plan to combine Vernon, Coldstream and Areas B and C into a single entity to provide a more efficient use of taxes. “We want the citizens of Greater Vernon to say if we are one community or not,” said Bruce Shepherd, president of the Society for the Future Governance of Greater Vernon. The petition is being published in The Morning Star and is available at The goal is to have a referendum on the ballot in each jurisdiction during the 2014 civic elections in regards to governance. “If they (voters) say no, at least they said it,” said Peter Moore, society director, adding that those opposed to amalgamation should be interested in a referendum proceeding. “It would be wise for them to ask to have the question on the ballot so they can vote no once and for all.”The society was first formed in 2005 with a primary focus on the entire North Okanagan, but nothing materialized and efforts ceased. However, earlier this year, a group of eight to 10 people from all four Greater Vernon jurisdictions decided to resurrect the group and narrow the scope to just Greater Vernon. “Our members are concerned about the duplication of services and inefficiencies,” said Moore of two municipal councils and two electoral area directors as well as parallel bureaucracies for 58,000 people. As an example, the society points to water and parks, recreation and culture being handled by the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee but any decisions must then go before the Regional District of North Okanagan board. In some cases, processes must also be ratified by Vernon and Coldstream councils. “There’s too much time spent going from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and committee to committee,” said Shepherd. “The speed of decision-making has slowed down and the infighting has increased,” added Moore. Moore says that Coldstream’s population grew 10 per cent between 2000 and 2010 but per capita spending, adjusted for inflation, climbed 32 per cent, while in Vernon, the population increased 13 per cent and spending per capita went up 53 per cent. “Spending is far outstripping the ability to pay so where will the dollars come from? Either taxpayers dig ever deeper or services will be cut. To avoid this, we must find cost savings in how we operate municipal government.” As part of a recent city core review, consultant KPMG indicated amalgamation would generate efficiencies and reduce costs. Vernon council decided not to take action on that recommendation. There have been previous attempts to move towards amalgamation but Moore is confident this new process will move ahead positively. “We are getting a sense that there’s a silent majority of residents that want the issue addressed,” he said. The society is not indicating if it has a target for how many signatures it would like on the petition by Oct. 31. “The provincial government has no magical number either but it needs to be a significant number of residents to call for the question,” said Shepherd. Before launching the campaign, the society consulted with provincial government representatives, including Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster. “They asked about the process and how the province would move forward if they get the numbers on the petition they believe they will get,” said Foster. “We (government) do not force amalgamation on anyone. I am pleased someone is going on a fact-finder  but we do not take sides and we are not initiating the process.” While the society favours amalgamation, Shepherd insists the priority of the campaign is to simply explore options. “It might be amalgamation or it might not, which is why it’s important for citizens on both sides of the issue to sign the petition and get the question on the table for formal discussion with facts,” he said. “Local and provincial politicians won’t take the initiative to find cost and efficiency savings in governance unless taxpayers demand it.”

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