If gas taxes were a pie, Central Okanagan municipalities are looking to adopt Penticton’s model of going directly to the baker to carve out their slice.
Mayors from Penticton, Kelowna, West Kelowna and Vernon sat down last week as part of the Intermunicipal Services Advisory Board to discuss a host of common issues facing the Okanagan, and representatives agreed on several topics to lobby senior levels of government.
How gas taxes are distributed was top of mind for many along the northern shores of Okanagan Lake.
“When the gas tax was set up, the only way West Kelowna could access gas tax funds was through the regional district,” West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater said, “which put the whole area into tier 2, including Kelowna, Lake Country and Peachland.”
That meant each municipality in the Regional District of Central Okanagan would have to meet and discuss each other’s needs before divvying out the funds, he said, and sometimes little was leftover to disseminate amongst the cities.
“We sit down and discuss amongst ourselves and with the regional district for access to those funds,” Findlater said.
The latest round of gas tax funds was primarly spent on two items: $700,000 for a roof repair to the RDCO building and $400,000 on a growth study.
“We certainly feel like we could use that money right here fixing roads, sidewalks and transit,” Findlater said, noting that if RDCO was placed in tier 1, each municipality would get gas tax funds directly. “The other municipalities support this, to move the Central Okanagan municipalities into tier 1 where we access the funds individually.”
That would mirror the model in Penticton, which receives gas tax funds directly in addition to a slice of pooled gas tax fund for the Regional District for the Okanagan Similkameen.
“It’s a significant portion of money that we’re able to utilize,” Mayor Dan Ashton said. “We get gas tax money right now, but that program is always up for review. The valley mayors want to make sure we continue that.”
Ashton said the City of Penticton received $920,000 directly last year from gas taxes, which have been used to upgrade the municipality’s waste water treatment facility.
The city is also eligible for a portion of the RDOS gas tax, he said, but typically don’t obtain the full 41 per cent portion that the city could be eligible for if it were distributed on a per-capita basis.
“If Penticton got its full 41 per cent, then municipalities like Keremeos, for example, wouldn’t get anything,” he said. “They try to do things that are regionally significant.”
Penticton’s smaller segment of regional gas taxes agreed upon for 2012, Ashton explained, will go toward two main projects: upgrades to select city buildings to boost energy efficiency and LED light bulbs.
If Penticton were shifted out of tier 1 funding like its neighbours to the north, he said, it would have a trickle-down effect to other southern municipalities as the city would have to push for more regional dollars.
“If it all collapsed, we would want our 41 per cent share,” he said.
“We are going to continue to lobby the province to make sure the gas tax money carries on.”
The group also discussed transit governance — committing to investigating options for public service delivery and establishing the most effective and cost-efficient system in the Okanagan — as well as apparent downloading from senior levels of government like stream protection and beach water quality testing.