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Hospital high on RDOS agenda

RDOS board chairman Mark Pendergraft says helping secure a funding committment for the proposed expansion of Penticton Regional Hospital is among his top priorities for 2014. - Western News file photo
RDOS board chairman Mark Pendergraft says helping secure a funding committment for the proposed expansion of Penticton Regional Hospital is among his top priorities for 2014.
— image credit: Western News file photo

Increased public engagement was high on Mark Pendergraft’s Christmas wish-list.

The chairman of the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen hopes people take a greater interest in the local government’s affairs in 2014.

“It is nice to hear from (constituents) and have some interest shown in things that are going on,” he said.

His wish could be answered when RDOS staff and directors hit the pavement to discuss the proposed 2014 budget, which so far features a 4.85 increase to the tax requisition.

“I think overall, the majority of those big increases are specific to some small areas, so it isn’t that much of an increase to everybody,” noted Pendergraft, the director for rural Osoyoos.

“I don’t know that we need to chisel at it right now, but I think we really need to wait and see what the public thinks after the consultation and go from there.”

The 2013 budget process was bogged down by opposition to proposed improvements to the region’s shared fire dispatch equipment.

Those upgrades, such as a new radio repeater on Okanagan Mountain, carry a $1.6-million capital cost that was tough for directors in Summerland and Osoyoos to swallow.

The new system will regroup 16 fire departments into three zones, each of which will share a radio link to the Kelowna dispatch service, meaning Summerland will lose its direct connection, while Osoyoos will help foot the bill for other communities that didn’t invest enough.

Despite opposition, the budget eventually passed and work is underway to get the new system up and running.

Pendergraft said a committee of fire chiefs has been formed to oversee, and advise on, the project, which will hinge on obtaining radio spectrum from Industry Canada and leasing space on a tower on Okanagan Mountain.

“I think everybody has come to the realization that it’s something everyone needs, and slowly but surely it’s being worked away at,” he said.

The chairman is pleased to have almost locked up the issue of vacation rentals through a new set of rules for most areas of the RDOS that will require property owners to obtain a temporary-use permit from the board, which can receive input from neighbours

“There are actually two very polarized sides to it: those that really believe in and those that hate it. And there are lots that are in the middle,” said Pendergraft.

“I think we’ve gotten to the point where it’s something nearly everyone can live with.”

Another controversial issue in 2013 was a voluntary safety audit on which the RDOS scored poorly, costing it $10,000 a year in rebates on WorkSafeBC premiums.

The audit didn’t reveal unsafe work practices, but instead penalized the organization primarily for not implementing a single safety system across all of its operations, such as volunteer fire departments.

To do that, RDOS staff recommended hiring a full-time health and safety specialist, but the board voted down that $73,000 item during the initial stages of the 2014 budget process.

“It’s going to be something that we still work at, but it will not be a very rapid process. I guess someone will end up working on it off the side of their desk as time permits,” said Pendergraft.

Pendergraft himself made headlines in 2013 when he took over as board chairman from Dan Ashton, who held the post for 12 years before making the jump to provincial politics.

“Most definitely it was a learning experience. Being the vice-chair for almost 1.5 years, you start to think, ‘I think I’ve got a handle on this,’ and lo and behold it’s a little bit more involved than you expect,” Pendergraft said with a laugh.

Ashton’s departure also shook up the 18-member board, with Wes Hopkin replacing John Vassilaki in one of the four representatives for Penticton.

More change could come this November after the municipal election. Pendergraft said he’s leaning towards running for a fourth term.

Besides public engagement, he’s got at least one other big project on his wish-list for the year ahead.

“The one that jumps to mind — and it’s not one that I specifically deal with — is the (Penticton) hospital patient care tower and the commitment from the province,” Pendergraft said.

“It would be nice if we could have something tangible happening, instead of just a business case. I mean, it’s important, but it’s not something you can grab onto.”

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