Potential regional district rift patched over
By Timothy Schafer, The Nelson Daily
The hatchet was unearthed and reburied last Thursday as the regional district directors put another patch over a long-standing feud, with some measure of solace achieved in the process.
The allotting of BC Hydro grants in lieu of taxes money has created a rift on the 20-person Regional District of Central Kootenay board of directors for many years.
Larger municipalities have long wanted their share of the $750,000 in grant money divided out, and the rural directors have expected it to all go into the same pot to fund region-wide initiatives.
For the last three years municipalities like Nelson have been able to gain their share of the money BC Hydro pays to regional districts — in return for electricity generating facilities located within their electoral areas — while the electoral areas and small municipalities paid into one pot for rural administration (for discretionary and community development funds).
Discretionary funding has gone to non-profit societies over the years, but there has been a feeling for years that one side has eyed the endowment of the other, with the intent of having one’s cake and eating it too.
On Thursday the annual debate raged on what payment option to advise the Province’s Ministry of Community and Rural Development with in regards to the coming payment of $750,000.
In a surprise move, RDCK vice chair and Area B director John Kettle dropped an amendment on the table proposing an RDCK policy (12208) — concerning the Community Development Program funded from Crown corporation facility (PILT) — be amended to reduce allocations to areas H, A, J, K and E by $20,000 each with the money to be applied to rural administration.
The directors who had a hydro facility right within their electoral boundaries were singled out, with the grants in lieu for communities like Nelson ($263,013) and Castlegar not being touched.
Kettle said this has been the most contentious issue the board has ever had to deal with, and has split the board to the point of them not being functional. It has become personal and egregious.
“By no means has there been mention of municipalities participating with us in a pool of the money because we know that is not realistic,” he said. “But I do know, with discussion by the ministry, that regional districts have the right, by Order in Council … to request that all hydro funding be sent to the RDCK. And then it would be distributed.”
Kettle added that the regional district has never been doing anything illegally, they have never been charged nor have they been sent a letter of reprimand from the Province on how they have handled the money. The moves in the past have all been done above board based on the voting power of the regional district board.
The amendment also contained a further five per cent administration fee to be charged annually to the total funding for processing of the hydro grants.
In addition, it was noted that a $600,000 contribution towards general administration for the construction of the RDCK main office was given to general administration.
All but two municipalities participate in the funding amendment with the exception of Nelson and Castlegar. Area K director Paul Peterson said nothing changes with the municipalities in the RDCK.
“We are going from nothing being put into taxation to $100,000 being put into taxation and I think that is a great start,” he said.
Although some of the money does help reduce taxes, it is a miniscule amount, said Silverton director Carol Bell.
“These monies go to support our volunteers,” she said. “I don’t think the taxpayers would (miss) this out of the budget … as would our volunteers out of their budget.”
The vote on the amendment passed almost unanimously, with only Castlegar director Lawrence Chernoff voting against it.
A motion — proposed by Nelson director John Dooley — was later passed that the Ministry be advised as to the board’s decision on the options and BC Hydro’s grants in lieu of taxes, and that the ministry reply to the board with their recommendation on the choice.
The new recommendation is a reasonable compromise to get the regional district to home plate, said Dooley.
“The reality is the board is making a choice to allocate these funds as they see it,” he said. “The concern we had since day one was the allocation of funds was not meeting the Ministry’s designation of these funds. It’s meant to reduce taxation and I think it is a reasonable compromise.”
The compromise showed solidarity on the board to move forward for the first time in several years, said Kettle.
“What has changed is the ability to communicate with the municipal directors,” said Kettle of Nelson and Castlegar. “They still get their money separate but they get it. But because they are members of the regional district, they participate in this building and operations.
“In fairness, we asked to let the rural people look at this money in the affected areas, and let them deal with it, and they (municipal directors) supported us on that today.”