This is the Life: Shared services are important to Creston Valley

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Last week, I promised to offer some opinions on why co-operation among the Town of Creston and local Regional District of Central Kootenay directors benefits the entire Creston Valley.

The town and RDCK have numerous shared services. Among them are water treatment and distribution, fire protection (Creston Fire Rescue covers Erickson residents, under contract, and all fire departments participate in a mutual aid program to help each other when necessary), road rescue (often, but not accurately, referred to as Jaws of Life), Creston and District Public Library, Creston Museum, Creston and District Community Complex, economic development (which includes the physician recruitment program) and the town’s cemetery in Erickson. These are the ones that come to the top of my head and there are probably others.

The services are shared in different ways — some are funded by a tax assessment to property and others are funded by “contributions” from defined areas, which mean they don’t come directly out of a specifically defined property tax (dollars might come, for instance, from gas tax proceeds to each area). Economic development, at least the regional district portion, and which includes physician recruitment is an example.

Some of these shared services appear to have no controversy attached to them, like the library, museum and community complex. Others have become particular bones of contention.

Last week I talked about the desire expressed by Area B director John Kettle to create a fire department that would cover Erickson, Arrow Creek, Lakeview and Kitchener. So what might things look like if this happens? Well, Creston Fire Rescue would shrink, because its responsibilities would be reduced. A new fire hall and equipment would have to be put in place, at a cost that I’ve heard could be as high as $2 million. And an almost entirely new volunteer group of firefighters would have to be recruited and trained, then maintained.

A couple of months ago, I sat at a meeting that included area directors, town council members and some town staff. At one point, just before he was about to speak, Creston Fire Rescue deputy chief Michael Moore had to step out of the room to take an emergency phone call. The call, we learned later, came from Wynndel, where only two firefighters had been available to respond to a fire. A request for mutual aid resulted in six more firefighters from Creston arriving on the scene.

Local fire chiefs, to a man, will acknowledge the challenge in keeping an active, trained bank of volunteers for each of the four (Creston, Wynndel-Lakeview, Canyon-Lister and Kitchener) stations. Adding another station in Erickson won’t be easy. I understand that only about three Erickson residents currently volunteer in neighbouring departments.

I also mentioned last week that the four local chiefs had presented a plan to meld fire protection into a single service last year. That plan was dismissed out of hand by the RDCK fire chief and there has been no indication since that the RDCK stance is about to change.

While the water issue is dramatically different, there are similarities. In addition to the Arrow Creek system, Creston Valley residents get their water from a number of small systems and all are under increasing pressures as provincial and health regulations become more and more arduous. The day will come, unless there is a remarkable turnaround, when it will be legally and financially impossible for these small systems to continue.

Disagreements about how economic development, the town cemetery and road rescue have led to some heated and, at times, not particularly rational debates among our elected representatives. And one gets the sense if more of these shared services begin to drop off the table, others could be in jeopardy, not because they don’t work, but because they are pawns that rely on co-operation for their funding.

Wouldn’t it be nice if our regional directors and town council could stand up in public and make a statement that, come hell or high water, they are going to work to streamline every possible Creston Valley service, reduce duplication (and therefore costs) and acknowledge that compromise, not contention, is in the best interests of this little (and largely forgotten by our West Kootenay neighbours in the RDCK) beautiful patch of geography and its residents?

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.