Taxation by Default?

[ Westside ]

Recent changes to the Municipal Act has given broader powers to the Regional District of Central Okanagan (RDCO). Some of the changes  were lobbied for and approved by the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM). Notably, two RDCO members, Robert Hobson and Aaron Dinwoodie sat on the UBCM.

Of special interest to residents, in particular those living on the Westside is a new means of RDCO spending your tax dollars. Now, instead of going to you and asking for your approval, they will seek instead what is called a "counter-petition" ( 1See UPDATE below)  This means that the opposition must find 5% ( 2See UPDATE below)  The burden is then on the opposition to organize, inform others of the increase, and garner support for the petition.
For any opposition,  this will prove very time consuming and very expensive,  or even beyond the means of any small group opposing the issue.

The first example we saw was that of the Constable Neil Bruce Middle School sports field lease. The RDCO announced the following:

"Pursuant to Section 809 of the Municipal Act the Regional District of Central Okanagan is seeking the assent, by counter petition, of the electors in a proposed service area made up of Electoral Area 'G', excluding IR10 and Electoral Area 'Westbank' , excluding IR9. The question before the electors is whether they are opposed to the adoption of Regional District of Central Okanagan Constable Neil Bruce Middle Sports Fields Lease Agreement Bylaw No. 872, 2000."

There was a great deal of confusion in the wording as to whom could or could not oppose the bylaw. Many in Westbank felt that they were, along with IR9 and IR10, excluded from participating if they so desired.

The Notice went on to state:

If adopted, the bylaw will authorize the Regional District of Central Okanagan to:

  • 1 enter into a lease agreement with school district No. 23 (Central Okanagan) for the operation and maintenance of certain sports fields and required amenities to be located at the Constable Neil Bruce Middle School 2010 Daimler Road, Kelowna, B.C., as outlined on the attached map;
  • the terms of the lease agreement will be 20 years;
  • 2 the proposed service area for the bylaw is Electoral Area 'G' excluding IR10 and Electoral Area 'Westbank', excluding IR9
  • the amount of liability created  by this bylaw is nil;
  • 3 during the life of the agreement, the annual operation and maintenance costs for the subject lands will be requisitioned from the annual budget for the existing Westside Parks function of the Regional District of Central Okanagan.

Concerns raised by the Lakeview Heights Community Association regarding the content of the notice are:

  1. There was no cost attached to the lease agreement. While it was later discovered that the cost is $1.00, the principal of the matter is still an issue. There is also no cost outline in either the "maintenance" or the "operation" of the sports fields. And, "required amenities" was not defined nor cost out.
  2. Again, the wording in the notice was read by many to exclude Westbank along with IR9 and IR10.
  3. Each year, usually in November and December, RDCO Director's work diligently to prepare the budget for the following fiscal year. The Director's may have added $250,000.00 to the 'budget' to accommodate the operation and maintenance costs, which would be approved upon the failed counter petition.
    An additional concern with #3 is that although the soccer association raised $250,000.00, the RDCO had agreed to match that without first discussing such a huge cost with the tax payers.

A "Counter Petition"  notice  gives the opposition only 30 days to find 5% of the electorate willing to sign a counter petition. Regardless of any more 'counter petitions', it was felt that 30 days is not sufficient time for any one person or organization to gather up additional information, research the data, prepare documents, and if felt necessary, to gather up 5% of the electorate signatures.

Combine this new method the RDCO is using along with the Mount Boucherie Master Plan, the Westside Parks Master Plan, and most importantly, the recent study indicating a $65 million tax increase, and you may find taxation by default a common procedure.

WARNING - CAUTION -  WARNING - CAUTION -  WARNING - CAUTION -  WARNING - CAUTION -  

CORD Targets OppositionThe Act also creates an effective gag order. If you elect to oppose the act and in so doing utter any comment, or make a statement in an attempt to defeat or undermine the project, you could be taken to court! That is, if you knowingly make false or misleading statements about the issue. In short, when the fire protection comes around again, and you can bet that it will be sooner than you might imagine, or when the Mount Boucherie second sheet of ice raises it's head again, be very careful what you say or you may find yourself in court defending your right to have an opinion.
Those groups, and individuals that are not afraid to speak up on local issues would do well to contact a lawyer before voicing their opinions relative to any new business by the Regional District, or supporters of any new projects involving government, taxes, or levies. In short, unless you are very careful, you may become the target of a law suit by proponents, Regional District, Regional District Director, or your even neighbour.

Andrew Hanon, Editor of the Capital News wrote a superb article relative to the new act entitled "Efficient government shouldn't mean trampling democracy." (Capital News, Pg A6, Sunday, June 11, 2000)

See what others think. View the recent poll results (pops up).

What can you do if you oppose this new form of taxation? You can and should call your local regional director, or write a letter to the editor of the Capital News or Daily Courier. You can even join your local community association and lobby them to voice your concerns.

On the Westside, you can contact Aaron Dinwoodie at 769-3000 or contact the Regional District office at:

Administration Department
Phone: (250) 763-4918
Fax: (250) 763-0606
Email: info@cord.bc.ca
Address: 1450 KLO Road, Kelowna, BC, V1W 3Z4
Hours: 8:00 to 4:00 Monday to Friday

UPDATE

05/07/07 NOTE: 

1The name of this process, once known as the "Counter Petition" form of forcing through local government tax increases has been changed and is now referred to as the "Alternative Process" - no - we're not kidding.

UPDATE

05/07/07 NOTE: 

2This 5% has changed now to 10%, but that too changes in relationship to the expected opposition. The higher the expected opposition, the higher the number required of the electorate to sign the counter-petition via the Alternative Process.
Remember... mums the word... or else! [ Westside ]