RDNO Chairman Kevin Acton, Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming and OKIB chief Byron Louis share a laugh on stage at the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce Local Leaders Lunch Wednesday at the Prestige Inn. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)

North Okanagan leaders faced with A-word

Amalgamation question posed at Greater Vernon Chamber event

Amalgamation, attracting young families to the high senior-populated area and the impact of crime and vagrancy are the hottest topics on the minds of some Vernon businesses.

The Chamber hosted one of the most successful Local Leaders Lunches to date, with the annual event attracting more than 100 people. Speaking at the event were Okanagan Indian Band Chief Byron Louis, Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming, Coldstream Mayor Jim Garlick and Kevin Acton, chair of the Regional District of North Okanagan.

The elected officials gave an update on their respective regions, followed by some top questions from the crowd. The top question on chamber members’ minds was posed to Coldstream about the possibility of becoming part of a larger amalgamation.

“I see nothing, no positives for that process moving forward,” said Coun. Pat Cochrane, responding for Garlick. “Coldstream, with over 11,000 people is very much a companion to the City of Vernon. We’re not interested in competing with Vernon, we want to be a partner with Vernon.”

Next up was a question for Vernon’s Mayor about the street entrenched population and the impact on local businesses.

See: Homelessness, open drug use continue to plague Vernon

“This council is really concerned about this issue,” said Cumming, noting that crime, homelessness, opioid addiction and mental health are all independent issues.

He says more than $1 million was dedicated from the previous council to get a full compliment of RCMP, bylaw enforcement investment and programs to help with cleanup and sharps.

Vernon is also getting more than 100 units in housing to address homelessness, which Cumming says is a long-term issue.

“Part of that is straight up crime and part of that is straight up people not having a place to live.

“Our housing supply of low cost housing has not kept pace with the demand. This very tight housing market has pushed people into absolute homelessness.”

Chief Louis also urged compassion with those on the streets: “That’s your neighbor, that could be someone you grew up beside. Are they to be cast away?”

The OKIB leader says many of his own people have fallen on tough economic times over the years due to industry changes.

“In 1979 we had something like 56 people involved in forestry and by 97 we were down to seven,” said Louis.

He also spoke about his community, which includes a number of assets such as 37 kilometres of lakefront property.

But with “9,800 non-residents living in our community,” Louis is concerned about the protection of such assets, from land to water, and preserving it for future generations.

That is also a concern over in the North Okanagan Regional District, which is looking at ways to reduce the largest waste at local landfills – organics.

“Commercials, grocery stores and businesses create a lot of organics that take up about 60 per cent of our landfills,” said Acton, noting that the less we put in our landfills the longer they will last.

Water is also important at RDNO, which is why boat impacts are being examined.

But Acton points out: “There a rumour about us banning boating on Kal Lake, and it’s just a rumour.”

See: Boating impact considered on Kal Lake

Acton, who is also Lumby’s Mayor, and who calls the regional district Greater Lumby, also urges residents to be careful about how the area is labelled, particularly in the summer due to the impact on tourism.

“This whole fires are the new norm in the Okanagan can be very damaging.”


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