Council questions parcel tax increase to fund water group

Shuswap Watershed Council (SWC) chair says rise due to changes occurring throughout process.

While supportive of a regional approach to water quality monitoring, Sicamous council wanted an explanation for the rise in the related cost facing taxpayers.

Paul Demenok, Shuswap Watershed Council (SWC) chair and Columbia Shuswap Regional District director for Electoral Are C, recently met with council to answer questions about the proposed parcel tax to support the SWC and related programming.

“I think that our concern was it went from a parcel tax of $5.20 to a parcel tax of $11,” commented Coun. Colleen Anderson.

Demenok said the original figure was based on assumptions  that changed over time. For example, it was initially assumed the Regional District of the North Okanagan would be a partner and financial contributor. However, Demenok explained, RDNO withdrew from the project, having a  watershed project of its own. Another unanticipated change was the City of Salmon Arm’s support.

“The (city) change was that they did not go with all the parcels within their city boundaries, they only went with the parcels I believe that were serviced with water. So there were some significant changes there to my understanding,” said Demenok. “So really, it was a change in the assumptions that formed that parcel tax base over time as we moved through that process.”

Coun. Jeff Mallmes was critical of that process, suggesting more consultation was needed before the CSRD proceeded with the Shuswap Watershed Water Quality Service Establishment Bylaw. Demenok said this was an unfortunate circumstance, but emphasized there was “no intention of trying to, in any way, confuse the scenario or change the scenario over time.” In addition, Demenok said annual funding of the five-year program is capped at $180,000, with this year being the highest.

“Certainly from an economic perspective, I think spending this kind of money on ensuring the quality of the water… is a good investment in the community, as you’ve just seen, tourism is what drives this area,” said Demenok.

Accompanying Demenok was CSRD chair and Electoral E Rural Sicamous/Malakwa director Rhona Martin. She said Sicamous councillors weren’t alone in their surprise by the changing cost. She said the matter was discussed and debated a lot at the CSRD board table, where it was eventually determined that the parcel tax was the right direction.

“Of course, we were constricted by a time crunch to try and get everything in place and make sure we could continue on next year,” said Martin. “We had deadlines to meet, the requirements of the Local Government Act, to make sure we deal with the taxation for the upcoming year.”

The bylaw received three readings by the board, and the CSRD has since received approval from the Ministry of Sport and Cultural Development to proceed with an alternative approval process for the parcel tax, currently underway. If more than 10 per cent of those eligible to file petition against the initiative, CSRD will be unable to proceed with the bylaw.

“I’m hopeful this will go forward,” said Martin. “I know it’s important to do the water quality monitoring and I think we have some great data. I think it’s been beneficial to the houseboat industry… I think it acknowledges some of the things the houseboat industry has done to try and inform people because there was a lot of information out there.”

Coun. Malcolm Makayev also had concerns regarding the use of words in the bylaw such as “protect” and “protection,” after being told the Watershed Council would not be responsible for enforcement. Demenok said the word “protection” has more to do with mitigation than enforcement of legislation.

 

“The Shuswap Watershed Council has never discussed and never intends to get into legislation or enforcement,” said Demenok. “It doesn’t make any sense in terms of the way this council is structured, in terms of its function and its focus on the partnerships at the table… In addition, even if we wanted that, which we don’t, we’d never be given that. There’s no authority to give a council enforcement rights.”