Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tie vote could force resumption of water utility discussions

Richard Rolke - Vernon Morning Star Published: June 19, 2010 12:00 PM

Attempts to apply pressure in Greater Vernon’s water dispute may have backfired. Coldstream and the BX directors recently recommended the water service review be postponed pending a judicial review or Vernon abandoning the legal process. However, that recommendation died in a 3-3 tie vote when it went before members of the North Okanagan Regional District board Wednesday. “It opens the door for the (service review) process to continue,” said Greg Betts, chief administrative officer. It will be up to the participating jurisdictions to determine if mediation resumes.

The prospect of a judicial review began in March when the city appealed an arbitrator’s decision that stated Vernon couldn’t just withdraw from the distribution component of the water utility. A parallel process of mediation, also known as a service review, was also launched to try and find common ground. However, officials from Coldstream and the BX decided in early June that meditation could not continue if arbitration may still occur. “We want to bargain in good faith. There’s no point in holding a gun to our head,” said Mike Macnabb, BX-Silver Star director. The three Vernon representatives voted against accepting the recommendation, forcing the deadlock. “There’s an obligation to all of the taxpayers to work it out,” said director Patrick Nicol, adding that the judicial review is not a stumbling block. “It’s only a barrier if you want to make it one.” Director Mary-Jo O’Keefe doesn’t see a link between mediation and the judicial review. “I understood them as two different processes. I thought they could continue at the same time,” she said.


So, for my edification, how will the process work? Will Mayor Lippert and Councillor Nicol sit down with the facilitator while Coldstream, B and C will stay away? What sort of negotiations will result from that?

The problem is this:

The Arbitrator decided that he has no jurisdiction in arbitrating partial withdrawal from the water utility. The City took the decision to Court arguing that the Arbitrator indeed has the jurisdiction in the case.

The outcome of the Court’s decision will determine what the next course of action should be. If the Courts side with the City, the Arbitrator will have to continue his arbitration process, thus the facilitation will discontinue till the arbitration is over.

In the alternative, that is the City loses, then we can pick up on negotiations with the City. We can’t negotiate while the Courts are debating the issues.

The City believes that they can save $3.5 million if they can drop out of joint distribution. The City contends that they are subsidizing agriculture rates. The facilitator has already debunked that theory (see Overview Paper, page 14).

If the City withdraws from the court action facilitation can continue. It will also continue if the City loses the case. Otherwise the arbitration will continue.

You cannot negotiate if there are no partners with whom to negotiate!


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I have been a resident of Coldstream since 1976. I have had 15 years of experience on Council, 3 years as Mayor. As a current Councillor I am working to achieve fair water and sewer rates and to ensure that taxpayers get fair treatment. The current direction regarding water supply is unsustainable and I am doing all I can to get the most cost effective water supply possible.