The community of Okanagan Falls is taking the first steps towards becoming an incorporated government, something that has never happened in the community’s 120-year history.
The Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development has approved a request by the board of the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen to commence a process to study the future of governance for Okanagan Falls.
“This has been a long road for the past ten years,” said Tom Siddon, Area D director.
The governance study will be guided by a consultant and a citizens steering committee, which will explore the best option for the long-term future of Okanagan Falls.
The study will be paid for by the province, costing approximately $50,000.
The study is the first step in a long process, looking at different ways of creating a responsible local government for the community of Okanagan Falls and finding out whether or not a town-hall style government is the best model. When the results come back, different options will be subject to a cost analysis determining the different financial implications for the area.
Becoming an incorporated government with a town council isn’t the only possible outcome from the study.
“One of the models could be to add a new director to Okanagan Falls, and I’m only speculating here, and a separate director for all the rural areas surrounding Okanagan Falls,” Siddon said.
He said another option would be to create a town advisory council which represents the voice and concerns of people living in Okanagan Falls, but they wouldn’t have any voting authority and would pass recommendations on to the rural director, an option that isn’t much different then a parks and recreation commission.
Citizens in the area will eventually be able to vote on which option they feel is best for the area, but that day isn’t coming any time soon.
“That question could come maybe a couple years from now,” Siddon said.
The next step after the results from the governance study come back is a business case analysis to determine the implications for residents, such as changes in the tax structure.
“Just to give an example, if we were to take over the maintenance of all roads within the community of Okanagan Falls from the Provincial Ministry of Transportation and Highways, then that is a cost factor, and how will we pass that cost on to the taxpayers and will their taxes go up,” Siddon said.
The governance study has been presented multiple times in the past from different directors. A petition for a 2011 study fell short when a new minister shut the project down due to lack of funds.
Siddon met with the ministry last September as well as the year prior and made a personal presentation.
“I said ‘we just got to get this thing rolling. Over a hundred years have gone by and its time Okanagan Falls knew how to manage their future’,” Siddon said.
Siddon said there are some important issues for the future of Okanagan Falls that might be better handled by a town council including the development of the town centre, the relationship with the irrigation district and maintaining infrastructure.
“There’s a whole range of issues and the town should have a council to deal with these issues,” Siddon said. “But we can’t just say it’s going to be your standard-model incorporated town council until we find out what the people feel would be the best approach.”
Towns like Oliver, Osoyoos and Princeton have incorporated governments, hovering around the same population size.
“A town the size of Okanagan Falls with 4,000 people or so could well be making its own decisions the same way that Keremeos does the same way that Oliver and Osoyoos do. So this process that we’re starting will put us in that direction,”
Siddon said that an incorporated government could help steer Okanagan Falls in a direction that would have the future of the community in mind.
“We tend to be resolving a lot of immediate problems, but not taking a long-term approach to how the town of Okanagan Falls, particularly, should be developed and how the land should be developed in the future,” Siddon said.
Area D Economic Development Co-ordinator John Powell said any impact incorporation would have on the economy in Okanagan Falls would be speculation as of right now.
“It’s probably a little premature for me to comment. I’ve got some ideas, but until the study comes out it might be a bit premature to say too much.”
Powell said he would imagine that incorporation would open up economic options though he noted nothing is for sure until the results of the study are published.