For RDEK board members, it was a hectic week packed with meetings with provincial government officials.
However, it was more than just face time with ministers at UBCM as resolutions were also debated by delegates representing municipalities and regional districts across the province.
Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt and Councillor Tom Shypitka represented Cranbrook, while Rob Gay, the Area C director and board chair of the RDEK, represented the regional government, along with a few fellow directors.
Gay noted that there were a few important things that came out of UBCM, such as $75 million Rural Dividend to be used help grow the economies of small communities, $2.2 million in funding for the Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation to go towards high-speed internet and the election of regional board directors to the UBCM executive.
“We did have a number of meetings with minister and for the most part, we got positive feedback, and some of it is just letting them know that some issues are still priorities for us,” said Gay.
The $2.2 million broadband funding was announced to complement the $3.34 million in funding received from the federal government that was announced in July. The new money was necessary to complete the project and purchase some hardware that wasn’t covered under the federal dollars.
“Now we’ve got everything we asked for, so we’re very happy there,” said Gay. “Now the onus is on our Internet Service Providers working with the Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation to perform and get some of this stuff in place.”
As of press time on Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Pratt and Councillor Shypitka have not responded to interview requests from the Daily Townsman.
Changes proposed to rural building inspections
One noteworthy issue coming off the UBCM floor was a resolution that drew attention to proposed changes to the Fire Services Act, as the amendments under consideration would require regional districts to enforce the Fire Services Act in unincorporated areas, adding significantly to local government costs.
Specifically, that would mean the RDEK would be responsible for carrying out building inspections and enforcing provincial regulations for.
“In the rural areas, many of those buildings are not inspected, we don’t have a role to do that,” said Gay. “Now, what government is saying, and it’s probably a lot of it is around insurance and public safety, is that these buildings, be it commercial buildings or public buildings, need to be inspected and if they’re not up to standard, need to be monitored until they are.
“It just downloads costs, so this new Fire Services Act, it would add to our costs and delivery, so that one—the group wasn’t too enthralled with that as it came out.
We heard rumblings as it came out, but this is one of these rules that we were never really consulted on, so that’s always a difficulty.
“Sometimes they try to push something through and the pushback is worse than if they would’ve spent six months consulting with us.”
Funds provided for rural economic development
The creation of a $75 million Rural Dividend, which was announced by Premier Christy Clark, has the potential to impact communities in the East Kootenay, Gay added.
The funding, spread out over three years, is aimed at helping communities reinvigorate and diversify their local economies.
“I look at a community like Canal Flats and if that was in place—I understand the mechanics of that won’t be in place till March and we’re not sure how to consult on that—but beyond saying that, it’s a good thing for rural communities as we try to transition, especially for single-resource based towns,” Gay said.
The funding will be available to communities with a population of 25,000 or under and authorities will need to clearly articulate what the funds will be used for. The program will be administered by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
Local government Auditor General a sore subject
One particularly thorny issue that also arose was the appointment of a new Auditor General for Local Government in the midst of a resolution from UBCM members that voted to eliminate the office.
As the AGLG office is a provincial entity, the UBCM vote was largely symbolic.
Gordon Ruth is taking over the AGLG duties, following the firing of his predecessor, Basia Ruta, in March
The AGLG, an office that was created following the 2013 provincial election, has been controversial from the start, as communities feel like they’re on the defensive from provincial government oversight.
Gay noted he is personally opposed to the AGLG office, pointing out that the RDEK is legally required to submit balanced budgets.
“Our books are public, we cannot put a budget out that is not balanced, so we aren’t going in the hole, so we report, we try to inform the public, our budget and audits are online, so you can get our audits anytime,” Gay said.
When the concept of an AGLG office was first floated, Gay said municipal and regional government politicians felt like they had to support it because of the optics of voting against it.
But then Ruta spent two years and over $5 million to do only two audits, as complaints mounted about inefficiency within the AGLG office. The City of Rossland and the District of North Vancouver underwent audits that didn’t just look at the financial books, but also the purchasing processes, which seemed to a common sticking point with communities that have been audited, said Gay.
Booth, Taft elected to UBCM executive
The East Kootenay will have representation on a Provincial level after two RDEK Directors were elected to positions on the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) Executive this week.
“On behalf of the RDEK, I want to congratulate Electoral Area F Director Wendy Booth on being elected Second Vice President and Invermere Mayor Gerry Taft for his election as Director at Large,” says RDEK Board Chair Rob Gay. “It is going to be an exciting year for both of them, and we are so lucky to have them representing us at the UBCM level as they work on policy-making and programming that will benefit all British Columbians.”
This will be Booth’s third year on the UBCM Executive and her first as Second Vice President, having spent the past two years as a Director at Large. “I’m honoured to have been elected by my colleagues and am looking forward to a dynamic year of learning,” says Booth.
It will be Taft’s second year on the Executive, but first as an elected Director at Large. Last year he was appointed by the Association of Kootenay and Boundary Local Governments as its representative. “It’s exciting to be able to continue on and move forward with some of the policy direction and initiatives we have been working on over the past year,” adds Taft.
The elections took place this week at the annual UBCM Convention in Vancouver.