RDCK responds: "family" in-fighting par for the course

Castlegar Source
By Castlegar Source
September 11th, 2009

Photo: RDCK board chair Gary Wright

Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) board chair Gary Wright spoke to The Source tonight, clarifying some of the positions the regional district has recently taken regarding Celgar’s failure to pay its municipal tax bill and Castlegar’s subsequent non-payment of Celgar’s portion of the regional requisition ($375,000).

First, to answer questions as to why the recreation commission’s reserve funds were not contemplated as an answer to the resulting budgetary shortfall, Wright explained that only a portion of the requisition money would go to recreation – and, therefore, only a portion of the shortfall could be addressed with rec commission reserves.

“A regional district cannot legally move funds around from department to department, like a municipality can,” he explained. “There are, I think, seven joint services that Castlegar participates in – for example, the Selkirk Innovation Chair. There was no extra money in that fund and there never was … it wasn’t set up that way.

“There are other functions, like West Waste Management, that do not have the reserves (either, to cover such a shortfall).”

As for the RDCK’s apparent refusal to consider the rec commission’s recommendation that internal reserves be used to cover any shortfall in their own department (as indicated by an eight-to-seven board decision to send notices to Complex staff advising them of potential cuts to hours and/or staff), Wright said the issue was simple – they hadn’t yet received the recommendation and were unaware whether the reserves were even an option.

“Reserve funds can only legally be spent on specific expenditures, not used however we’d like – it doesn’t work that way,” he said, adding he doesn’t question the rec commission’s contention that the reserves are a viable option – but the board did not know whether such would be the case until today. “We don’t usually receive committee meeting minutes until all the members approve them – sometimes a month after the meeting itself. (In this case, due to the pressing nature of the issue), we did get draft rec commission minutes …but not until earlier today.”

When asked if it was thus premature to send out notices that would leave Complex staffers fearing for their livelihoods, he said that particular egg is on Castlegar’s face, not the regional district’s.

“Part of the unfortunate fallout from Castlegar’s non-payment is they forced the district to notify all our union members of this (job losses and service cuts) as a possibility,” he said. “At the time, we had to make a call of the possibilities, to give our employees notice of what could happen – that’s what Castlegar did to the employees, not the regional district.

“It’s a courtesy to the employees to let them know this was something we had to look at as one of the options.”

He said he himself penned the potential resolutions presented on an agenda for a general affairs committee meeting held this morning in Nelson, as it is his job to present the committee with a variety of possible solutions to problems that arise. Since Castlegar agreed to pay the $375,00 (and, in fact, the bill is already paid), most of those resolutions were deemed moot, and only two were accepted (to be forwarded to the RDCK board as a whole for discussion).

After yesterday’s meeting, the board will be asked to consider adopting the following policy: that remuneration and expenses accorded directors and their alternates will only be forthcoming if said directors’ municipality is current in its requisition payment, and that directors or alternates whose municipalities are in arrears not be allowed to represent the RDCK at conventions and/or conferences.

As for the use (or lack thereof) of reserve funds for the rec commission budgetary shortfall, he said that decision, had it not been made unnecessary by Castlegar’s recent payment, would have been made with a weighted vote, meaning directors from Creston or Kaslo would not have had a say in the outcome, whereas Castlegar’s vote would hold sway in direct proportion to its contribution (in this case, roughly 70 per cent) to funding the department.

“Regional district government is so fair, but it’s also so complicated, it’s hard for the average resident to understand, or even for municipalities to understand, because it’s so different from the way municipal government is legislated.”

Next up was the issue of late penalty – the RDCK, he said, should receive the 10-per-cent late penalty Celgar owes the city (just shy of $40,000), but only on the regional portion, and only if and when those monies are remitted to the city by Celgar.

Wright proferred several reasons for this logic, the first being that coping with the shortfall has already cost the RDCK thousands of dollars, the second being that, otherwise, municipalities would receive a “windfall” every time they declined to pay a requisition – first, in the 10-per-cent late penalty itself, and second, in the interest payment, which is also tacked onto the delinquent ratepayer’s bill.

He added the late penalty will still be used to serve Castlegar and her residents, should it be forwarded to the RDCK.

“That money would not go to Creston or Kaslo,” he added.

“It would go proportionally to joint services provided by and for Castlegar (under the auspices of) the regional district.”

Finally, Wright addressed the notion that years of developing a cooperative and collaborative relationship between the city and RDCK have been laid waste by the goings-on of the past several weeks.

“I’m just kind of smiling to myself at this question. As far as I’m concerned, the relationship has never ceased to exist and this particular situation is one that has happened for the past 20 years,” he said, adding Castlegar has failed to pay requisitions in the past. “This is our relationship, and it’s fine with me.

“It’s like one of those families that works together – we have our disputes over internal things within the family, but when we turn and face outward (for example, in dealing with economic development or health), I think the regional district and Castlegar have worked together and will continue to do so.

“I don’t think there’s any special rebuilding (of the relationship) necessary. This has been our relationship for years, it’s not one that is unfriendly … but it can be a bit stormy sometimes.”

He referred, as an example, to a service review called by Castlegar three years ago.
“Castlegar has yet to conclude the service review and move on,” he said, explaining that, as the initiating party, only Castlegar can call an end to the process.

When asked if the spirit of partnership when “turning outward” was in evidence when RDCK director Gord Zaitsoff suggested tri-party dialogue between Celgar, the RDCK and the province to have Celgar removed from city boundaries and placed under RDCK jurisdiction, Wright had two responses.

First of all, he said, the RDCK board never voted on or approved any such motion, and he could not, and would not, speak to the opinions of any single director.

“And, historically, the area that (includes) Celgar was in the rural area at one time and was brought into city limits,” he added, suggesting this issue was just another facet of a long-standing family squabble.

City council has not yet had opportunity to respond to the RDCK’s request that the late penalty be forwarded to the district.

The Source will provide updates on the situation as more information becomes available.

Categories: General


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