What seemed like a pretty innocuous idea last year turned out not to be so for our local regional directors. They were completely blindsided by the storm of controversy that arose from a proposal to provide some operating funds to the Pet Adoption and Welfare Society through a small property tax levy. I’ll admit that I was, too.
The notion dates back to a local services committee meeting last year, when Regional District of Central Kootenay directors Larry Binks, Garry Jackman, John Kettle and Ron Toyota heard a report from PAWS about its operation and its role in the emergency needs generated by the spring floods. Farm animals and pets were left homeless when rivers rose over their embankments and PAWS was asked to provide emergency services to provide temporary shelter and care.
It was Kettle who suggested that PAWS should be brought into emergency planning process, so that the regional district would have a one-stop solution to providing care for animals during emergencies in the Creston Valley. If we could provide some regular funding through taxation, would you be prepared to commit time, energy and resources to provide emergency services whenever needed, he asked. The answer was yes. The directors were of one mind that this was a good idea.
It took months for the idea to become a plan, and for the necessary bureaucratic hoops to be jumped through. When a taxation figure was decided upon and the provincial government had approved the use of the alternative approval process, summer was upon us. I am quite certain that none of the directors gave much thought to the possibility that significant opposition would arise. It was a small amount of money — and $5 for a typical property owner is small by any definition — and the chance to fund an important and respected volunteer organization in return for the provision of emergency services sounded perfectly reasonable.
Unfortunately, the public didn’t recall or know why the taxation proposal was coming to them. And it didn’t remember or care that the alternative approval process has been used before, generating not so much the blink of an eye — and for larger, much larger, amounts of money. Some have a beef with PAWS and the way it operates but I think many more simply don’t want to add more services to their property tax burden. I think there is a strong likelihood that sufficient numbers of property owners signed forms to prevent the taxation from going ahead without a referendum. I also think that now, whatever efforts might come from the regional directors, the plan to fund some of PAWS operational costs through taxation is dead.
Directors, surprised by the calls they were getting and by letters to the editor in the Advance — a pretty good bellwether of public opinion — were already in the process of seeing if the time could be extended for the alternative approval process opponents to ensure opponents had their say. Then, when news broke about a man going around to local businesses and tearing up papers bearing opponents’ signatures, directors made a quick decision to ask the RDCK board to kill the process, at least temporarily.
Kettle was quick to admit that he and his fellow directors had blown it when it came to the need to communicate their belief that the taxation plan was a good one that would benefit local emergency responses. Binks and Toyota agreed. When I spoke to them last week they all indicated that the proposal should be brought back, but not before they had a strong plan in place to explain their point of view. Kettle admitted, though, that it just might be that taxpayers simply have no stomach for financing additional services through taxation. People who a few years ago voted to add hundreds of dollars to their tax bill to construct an aquatic centre and upgrade recreation facilities might now be saying that enough is enough, or maybe even too much.
Sadly, through all the controversy, PAWS has become the target of anger by some residents. The organization got caught in the middle of a mess not of its own making. And that, I think, is a shame.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.