Opinion

Long process to disincorporate requires long letter of explanation

To the editor:

Sorry this is lengthy, but so is the process. Here’s what we would need to do to join Kelowna now.

First and foremost we are now a municipality so Westside is a separate entity entirely from the City of Kelowna. The act of disincorporation has not been done in B.C. and it is a difficult, costly and lengthy process. As a municipality we are now absorbing the improvement districts. This involves the transfer of funding and most of all debt from these improvement districts.

In order to disincorporate, the process has to begin at the grassroot voter level. It would require a petition signed by 51 per cent of the eligible voters to petition the newly elected government to make an application to the province to disincorporate. The council would then have to unanimously pass a resolution to make an application to the province.

That’s seven votes on council required. The province has the right to reject this but even if they were willing to entertain the process it would require that the debts and current cost of operating the municipality be dealt with.

A detailed audit and payment plan would have to accompany this application that would be payed for by Westside taxpayers.

In other words, the debts would either have to be paid off by the taxpayers of the municipality or they would have to agree to assume the debt so that the municipality could be disincorporated.

Talk about tax increases? The province would be unwilling to assume the debt and carrying costs. Note that the operating costs and debts of the municipality would be a direct responsibility of the taxpayers affected. The actual cost of disincorporation would be put on the shoulders of the Westside taxpayers.

Now, the province under the Local Government Act, will insist that a feasibility study and a committee made up of elected officials and volunteer members of the community be commissioned and that the financial situation of the Westside be audited. This would take the form very similar to the Westside governance committee. Basically we would be starting what took five years last go round to do it all again. In fact the questions on the referendum would be similarly worded with less choices. Someone has to be willing to pay for this. That of course would be the Westside municipality taxpayers.

At the end of this disincorporation process, application could then be made by the voters of Kelowna to extend their boundaries. Kelowna, at their expense, would then make application to the provincial government, who would request an audit and feasibility study and ultimately a referendum to the taxpaying voters of the entire area.

The disincorporation requires one study while the application by Kelowna would require an additional study now encompassing the ability of Kelowna to provide services and auditing of the cost of providing the additional services to the Westside. Should Kelowna voters vote against boundary expansion Westside would remain an unincorporated entity.

The process of disincorporation is highly unlikely as the provincial government has never dealt with it before. The purpose of that part of the Local Government Act was for areas that were being depopulated and had too few rate-payers left to carry the costs of running a local government to opt out. Similarly the regional district would have to be audited and would have to make application to include this disincorporated area within their jurisdiction.

Disincorporation is messy and financially burdensome to the taxpayer, so the more logical choice of the two would be amalgamation, which would look like this. It’s more complex but would be the more likely scenario.

The process is similar if Westside District Municipality was to make application to join with Kelowna. This cannot be initiated on either side of the lake without a request to council from voters in each jurisdiction. Mayors and councils cannot act on this without a mandate from their residents. This might seem to be the smarter way to go but again this would take a petition to the Westside council and it would also take a similar petition on the other side of the lake. Kelowna residents would have to make application to their council to enter into discussion with Westside district municipality and then it would require a feasibility study struck of members of both councils and volunteers from Kelowna and Westside.

This discussion requires provincial approval to proceed. Detailed audits of both communities would be required by the provincial government. Local taxpayers would foot the bill for this.

After a detailed governance and cost study audited by the provincial government the combined forces of both Kelowna and Westside would be required to present their findings to the residents of both communities first for study, then for public input.

Then at the recommendation of the committee, both communities would have to hold separate public forums and after applying to the provincial government, ultimately two separate referendums.

The cost of this again rests on the taxpayers of both communities. Note that the previous Westside governance study would not be acceptable as it no longer applies to the current Westside municipality. If one community voted in favour of joining and the other voted against it the process would end. A great deal of time and expense could be accrued only to have both Westside and Kelowna still independent of each other. Note that an agreement would have to be reached by a majority of voters on each side of the lake. Both areas would have spent substantial time and money on two referendums. The money for the referendums comes out of the taxpayer’s pockets.

This is a far more involved process than we are being led to believe. If you want to know more then contact the provincial government. Look up the Local Government Act and talk to those who are involved in the process. We are now Westside District Municipality and that won’t be cheap and easy to transform it into something else. Kelowna residents could present a petition to their council asking them not to proceed, then where would we be?

If you really want to join Kelowna then realize that it will take a minimum of five more years of study, applications, referendums and copious amounts of tax dollars.

Add in one year for the initial petitions and applications and one year at the end for the amalgamation vote and new council votes and you are looking at a practical minimum of seven years. This does not even consider that the current mandate to include the improvement districts within Westside must be completed before any of the rest of this begins. The offer of assistance from the provincial government does not apply as a new arrangement would have to be negotiated. During all this time the Westside would need strong leadership to maintain and service the existing community. At the same time additional funding from the taxpayers on both sides of the lake would be required to pay for the new governance study and audits.

After all this was done, if the vote of both Westside and Kelowna favoured amalgamation, a process like we just went through over the last few months would repeat on a larger scale. The provincial government would have to issue new letters of patent including a new name and appoint an interim administrator as both Kelowna and Westside councils would have to be dissolved.

Depending on overall population density the new area would probably be a municipality rather than a city but this would be determined by the provincial government.

Note that cities and municipalities have different funding, policing and provincial assistance available. An asset and liability inventory would be conducted for the larger area and funds would be allocated from the pockets of the affected taxpayers for running the existing infrastructure.

New development applications as well as anything else that would normally require council approval would be on hold till the election of a new government.

A new election for this new municipality of Kelowna Westside would be called and candidates would declare their intentions as we would now head again to the polling stations to elect an entirely new mayor and council.

Is this what we want?

Gregory Elliot

Westbank

Note: The above is my assessment of the process involved partly based on personal study of the Abbotsford Matsqui amalgamation process and the Westside governance study. My sources are the B.C. Local Government Act and discussions with staff for MLA Ida Chong as well as mayoralty and council candidates public comments.

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