Conservation efforts in the South Okanagan-Similkameen could get a major boost from local taxpayers

Conservation efforts in the South Okanagan-Similkameen could get a major boost from local taxpayers

Conservation group pitches property levies for $500,000 fund

Penticton city council, RDOS give preliminary OK to plan that could cost property owners as little as $9.25 annually to preserve and protect

A plan to create a conservation fund through a levy on the region’s property owners has now gained preliminary approval from two local governments.

Depending on how many municipalities and rural areas buy in, the proposed levy could be as low as $9.25 per property and raise $500,000 annually, according to Bryn White, who is leading the campaign for the South Okanagan-Similkameen Conservation Program.

“I think what we’re hearing from the public is, yes, there are areas that should be set aside and conserved, but there’s a whole range of other things that we want to see happen,” she told the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen last week.

“We want to see places that have been degraded come back. We want to see places our kids can play in. We want to see (projects) that protect our water … and viewscapes and things that make this place an awesome place to live in.”

White noted the SOSCP commissioned a poll in 2007 that showed 86 per cent of 300 respondents supported the idea of a conservation fund, although just seven per cent said they’d contribute voluntarily.

“I do believe we have the social licence to go forward,” she said.

The fund would be modelled on those already in place at three others regional districts in B.C., including East Kootenay, where a $20 annual parcel tax has generated $1.5 million since 2008.

RDOS directors voted unanimously to have staff obtain fresh public opinion on the idea and work out more details, including options to give the public a direct say, perhaps through a referendum.

“This is a core service of what government should be doing because it’s a failure of the marketplace and of individuals to take care of the environment by themselves,” said Wes Hopkin, an RDOS director and Penticton city councillor.

“We have to do something collectively. This is just as important as policing and fire.”

Angelique Wood, the director for rural Keremeos, believes the fund could also help improve the public’s perception of the RDOS.

“Since we are perceived as a very pro-development board, I think it’s really important that we are shown to be a conservation board as well,” she said.

Tom Siddon, who represents Okanagan Falls-Kaleden, said he supports the concept but also called for a solid public information campaign prior to seeking public assent at an as-yet undetermined date.

“I don’t mind mandatory (levies) if it’s modest, but we’ve got to build a case,” he said, so that it doesn’t appear “we’re just getting a war chest so we can buy out the developers who come and put the blocks to us here.”

White presented in June to Penticton city council, which granted support in principle for further investigation of the fund proposal.

She expects to meet with other local governments in the months ahead and work with the RDOS on the public information campaign.