If the decades of sharing the costs of jointly used services between the Town of Creston and Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) are about to end, it wasn’t evident at a town committee of the whole meeting on Monday.
The special meeting was called to address shared service agreements after Mayor Ron Toyota cast the lone dissenting vote at the Feb. 16 RDCK meeting on a resolution to extend the tenure of the Arrow Creek water treatment and supply service (ACWTSC) through 2016. Toyota also voted against an amended ACWTSC bylaw.
Area B director John Kettle, who doubles as RDCK chair, countered later that day with a letter requesting that the Ministry of Community Services begin a service review. Under a formal service review process, the province appoints a representative to examine the issue and make recommendations about how to resolve disputes.
“The rationale for this request is the impact from the largest domestic user (Town of Creston) which may adverse and financially devastating effect on the agricultural industry in the Erickson service area,” Kettle wrote.
At the heart of the dispute is a desire by the town to lower the proportion of treated water it pays for. Under the previous agreement, the town has borne a 63 per cent share. Toyota now contends that a 60-40 split with Erickson users would be more in line. The RDCK resolutions passed last week seem to indicate the regional district holds no hope of reaching a negotiated agreement with the town.
“My personal concern is that the three directors (Town of Creston and Areas B and C) have the power to determine this split and down the road, when new directors are in place, with no formal agreement in place, we could see some different direction or attitudes by the new directors,” Toyota said on Tuesday.
On Monday, Kettle and Area C director Larry Binks met with Toyota and Couns. Tanya Ducharme, Judy Gadicke, Jerry Schmalz and Scott Veitch, seven town employees and RDCK corporate administration director Dawn Attorp.
“Both parties agree to do this (undergo a service review), so it is a good thing to do,” Toyota said.
Attorp cautioned that there are two ways to review the service, with an informal negotiation, or bylaw review, being preferable to a formal process led by the province.
“In a meeting between town and RDCK staffs we could tick off the items which are easily addressed,” she said. “Then we could meet with the stakeholders to look for agreement. It is in everybody’s advantage to resolve this among ourselves.”
That approach found quick agreement among those in attendance and the meeting proceeded to discuss other shared agreements that are in contention.
Binks expressed his opposition to continue paying for a share of road rescue services, which include Jaws of Life equipment and operation.
“My position is that I am not opposed to being charged for this service, but I am opposed to paying for a service I am not getting,” he said.
Under the current agreement, Areas A, B and C contribute to a fund that helps pay for road rescue services, and to support volunteer ground and air search and rescue functions. Binks contends that Area C taxpayers should only pay for roadside rescue services rendered, and not to a general fund.
“If the Jaws of Life service is called out, it goes in as a statistic, whether it is used or not,” Binks said. “I am opposed to paying just for the sake of paying.”
“But who is going to pay for it to be there, ready to be used?” Gadicke asked.
“I thought this was a service in which we look at the community as a whole,” Ducharme said.
Kettle said that each fire department in the area should look after road rescue services, rather than rely on Creston Fire Rescue.
“We need to do an audit of all of our shared services,” Attorp said. “A lot of the angst around the services is that people don’t know what they are getting.”
Kettle observed that the service had evolved into “a camel that was supposed be a dog designed by a committee.”
With no clear resolution to the road rescue services function and funding, the discussion moved on to cemeteries.
For years, Kettle has objected to the costs of operating Town of Creston cemeteries, arguing that they shouldn’t be funded by taxpayers, or at least that they shouldn’t be operated by government employees.
“We shouldn’t be subsidizing cemeteries,” he said. “I think this (RDCK directors opting out of sharing the costs) leaves the town in a terrible situation. But the cost of operation is disproportionate to what it would be if was done by the private sector.”
He said there is a surplus in the operating fund that will allow the current system to be maintained through 2012, but recommended the town explore the use of a private contractor to make the service more affordable once directors pull out their funding support.
“Cemeteries in Area B get a small amount of funding from us — about $1,500 each per year — and they do a beautiful job,” he said.
Iain Bell, the town’s engineering and public works director, said that the town and RDCK share the funding under a letters patent that would require the province to amend it before any changes are made.
Attorp said the existing letters patent gives the RDCK the authority to contribute to the service, but does not require it to do so.
The meeting’s final area of discussion focused on economic development funds, most of which are proposed to go to the Creston Valley Chamber of Commerce. Participants agreed that discussions would be held with the chamber to ensure there is agreement on funding levels and expectations of services provided.
“We do have joint services that are working,” Toyota said, citing the library, museum and airport.
“We agree on more than we disagree,” Kettle added. “We have more joint services than other areas in the Central Kootenay — in some, it’s a blood sport.”