Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Councillor replies - “Vernon refutes power trip claim”

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Greater Vernon Parks – Playing Fair

In response to the recent Morning Star Article “Vernon refutes power trip claim”, and reporter Richard Rolke’s editorial; “Games people play”, in the July 21st Morning Star regarding the Parks Service Review meeting that took place at the Regional District on Monday July 18th, 2011, I would like to help inform the public on some of the facts.

Mr. Rolke unfortunately missed the second part of the meeting, and may not have been aware of some of the events.

In fact, there was some significant progress made. The workshop format facilitated by the Regional District staff was excellent, and very amenable to allowing each participant a chance to speak freely and get right down to the heart of the problem with Parks and Rec.

The first thing that came to light, in the afternoon session, was that the participants ARE willing to go along with a governance voting structure as represented by population (Rep. by Pop.) as desired by Vernon, IF the scope of the ‘service’ is reduced to the structure that was presented by the facilitator, Allan Neilson-Welch, in the Draft Terms of Agreement – paper dated October 2010.

For those who don’t understand how Parks & Rec. and Culture works now in Greater Vernon (I don’t blame you, it is very confusing), here is a little background explanation:

The ‘Service’ is presently divided into three ‘Functions’ operated by the Regional District of the North Okanagan (i.e.: RDNO or NORD, same). These ‘Functions’ are governed by ‘Establishment Bylaws’ in accordance with the requirements of the ‘Local Government Act’. When you set up a ‘function’ at the Regional District, you ask which jurisdictions want to participate, in this case the participants are; the City of Vernon, Municipality of Coldstream, and Electoral Area B & C. These ‘participants’ form ‘Greater Vernon’ and the three ‘Functions’ are:

1) Vernon and District Multi-Use Facility (or Multiplex)
2) Vernon and District Community Theatre (or Performing Arts Centre)
3) Greater Vernon Parks Recreation and Culture

Each year the ‘functions’ establish a budget, and the Regional District draws up a requisition from the participants, then you see it on your tax bill as line items; ‘Parks & Rec, Multiuse, and Theatre.

For a typical household (I’m taking a sample Coldstream bill for illustration purposes, but yours will be different):

If the ‘General Tax’ line on your tax bill reads - $1,000 (tax on land & improvements) then the relative Parks & Rec line might be - $419, Multiplex - $93, and Theatre - $67, (last three are based on the assessed value of improvements only).

Your individual proportion paid, depends on the assessed value of your house vs the assessed value of your Land & House. However in this example you would be paying a total of $579 of taxes for the ‘Parks Service’ versus $1,000 for your whole ‘General Tax’.

You can see what a huge proportion of the total tax bill this represents. For Coldstream, in 2010, we collected a total of 4.2 million dollars (according to our 2010 Annual Report) in tax revenue from our taxpayers, but we also collected 2.4 million dollars for the Regional District (N.O.R.D.) requisition (75% of which is for the three functions mentioned above).

Taxpayers give a lot of scrutiny to the $1,000 portion of the tax bill, however the $579 dollars portion may go by un-scrutinized because people do not understand the process of budget setting for parks. This lack of control and understanding has resulted in a lot of frustration from outside groups, and a budget setting process that has allowed the budget to double over 13 years.

When the scope of a service is so large, it makes sense that you should ask yourself what are we getting for our money? Is the service as efficient as it could be? Can we, as a local government, be responsive to our constituents? Ironically, these are much the same questions that Vernon wants considered when it asks to ‘devolve’ the ‘Greater Vernon Water Utility’ function, but that is another story.

Coldstream and B & C are asking these questions, it took a full year of deliberations with a mediator/facilitator, Allan Neilson-Welch, to come up with answers and a draft Terms of Agreement. There was a lot of give and take to produce the final document, all participants met numerous times and some very good recommendations were put forward for the re-structuring of the ‘Parks Service’. However at the 11th hour in November 2010, when all the parties got together for a joint meeting of the full Vernon Council, Coldstream Council, and Area B & C reps, Vernon Council balked at the whole deal, as though they had never been part of the year long consultation process that produced the document. This was reported to the public as “yet another squabble”, and not well explained by the media as to just what the differences were.

Had the media been present for the last part of the July 18th meeting, they would have noted that an attempt was being made to salvage the Parks Review where it left off last November. It came to light, that one of the major things that City of Vernon Councillors had objected to at last November’s meeting, was the exclusion of the Rec. Centre Complex and Civic Arena from the joint re-structured service. For clarity the Vernon Rec. Centre Complex and Civic Arena includes:
-Vernon Aquatic Centre and Fitness Gym
-Priest Valley Gym
-Dogwood Gym
-Priest Valley (indoor) Arena
-Centennial (outdoor) Arena
-Centennial Building
-Halina Citizens Centre
-Curling Rink
-the old Civic Arena

Historically these facilities had been at the heart of the formation of the Parks Recreation & Culture function. Vernon Councillors felt, these facilities, as well as some large parks like Polson, should remain 100% shared. Coldstream and Area B & C reps, had not been opposed to that arrangement, provided they got a meaningful say in the vote regarding any capital expansion, and a balance of power was maintained whereby one participant could not trump the others. Vernon representatives (last year), Lippert and Gilroy, had communicated that Vernon insisted on full control, so the compromise presented in the Allan Neilson-Welch document was that; Coldstream and B&C would pay only 50% of the dollar value that the jurisdictions had traditionally paid towards the operating costs associated with the facilities, and in exchange they would have no say in the operations of the facilities, and Vernon could have full control, and responsibility, for future capital expansions for all the Rec. Complex facilities. The general feeling from Coldstream and B&C, expressed in the compromise, was “if we pay, we want a say”!

At the July 18th, 2011 meeting, after some discussion about the Rec. Complex, there was agreement by all committee members to take forward to their Councils for consideration, a proposal whereby the Vernon Recreation Complex and Civic Arena would be split out as a separate ‘Function’ from the ‘Sub-Regional Parks Function’. That ‘Function’ would see all the Rec. Complex & Civic Arena operating costs shared by Coldstream, Vernon, and B&C as they are now, but separation of the ‘Function’ would give a better financial picture of true costs. This new ‘Function’ could have an establishment bylaw that would include governance by representation by population, but would restrict the ability of one partner from assuming debt or thrusting debt upon others by requiring a 2/3 majority vote on Capital Costs.

There was also agreement to further discuss the scope of a Sub-Regional Parks ‘Function’ to possibly include:

Swan Lake Park, Gray Canal Trail Network, Kal Beach, Kin Beach, Polson Park, and Marshall Park.

All other park properties would become the sole fiscal responsibility of their respective jurisdictions (while programming would remain part of the collective function).

I am sure that this may be difficult for the public to fully grasp, these are complex issues, but the bottom line is we are trying to make the ‘Service’ more transparent, efficient and accountable.

What’s Next? The next ‘Parks Review’ meeting is scheduled for the second week of September, the meeting is open to the public, call the Regional District for the exact date & time. There is a lot more work to do and it takes time, trust and sincerity on all sides to achieve meaningful results. Many groups out there like the Art Gallery, Museum, Art Centre, Boys and Girls Club, and Teen Junction are proposed to be part of another ‘Function’ broken out of the present structure, this ‘Function’, if approved, will be called the ‘North Okanagan Arts, Culture, and Youth Function’ (N.O.A.C.Y.). It is hoped that this restructuring would end the ping pong game between Vernon City Council and RDNO, where groups are sent from one Board Room to another, cap in hand, with one entity blaming the other for why their hands are tied. Everyone is counting on us to work together to fix the problems, and there ARE real problems! The new Vernon representative for the parks review is Councillor Mary-Jo O’Keefe, and she has the opinion that Vernon residents are happy with the parks function as it is, and that there is no pressure to change the service. I wonder if the citizens of Vernon really know all the facts? I trust that Vernon is sincere in their participation in the Parks Review. It would be a sad waste of taxpayers money to just drag the process out to the next election. Let us continue the momentum, and the great progress made in this last meeting, let us also use the excellent foundation work done by Allan Neilson–Welch to arrive at a win-win conclusion for all.

Maria Besso,
Coldstream Councillor


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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.