John Powell

John Powell

Okanagan Falls to stay under thumb of RDOS

B.C. government denies request for study to see what it would take for community to become a stand-alone town

Another bid to turn Okanagan Falls into a self-governing community has been rejected.

Tom Siddon, who represents the area on the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, learned in April that the B.C. government chose not to fund a study needed to lay the groundwork for incorporating the community.

He said it was “disappointing” to learn his effort had stalled, but he’s been told the issue is “not dead.”

At present, Okanagan Falls is under RDOS jurisdiction, but Siddon feels residents would be better served with a proper town council that could, for example, fix its own roads, rather than wait for the Transportation Ministry to do so.

“That is why we need to have some form of town council in Okanagan Falls where the community can put pressure on, and ultimately have the budget means to tax and to invest in the improvement of the community,” he explained.

A spokeswoman for the B.C. Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development confirmed the agency denied Siddon’s request for a study, at cost of up to $80,000, but wouldn’t say why exactly.

“When evaluating a request for a taxpayer-funded governance or incorporation study, the ministry… considers a number of factors, including whether there are local issues that cannot be addressed by the existing regional governance system,” Shannon Hagerman said in a statement.

She noted, however, that the ministry “is committed to addressing this issue,” and has offered to send staff to meet with Siddon to discuss other ways to “support the community’s needs within the existing rural governance framework.”

A briefing note prepared for Minister Coralee Oakes stated the last attempt to incorporate Okanagan Falls, in 1989, was considered “contentious” and was later shot down in a failed referendum.

“Since that time, the community has seen significant change in terms of evolution of the local economy, demographics and demand for local government services,” said the note, which was released to the Western News through a freedom of information request, and mentioned previous requests for studies in 2010 and 2012 were turned down due to “fiscal constraint,”

The note also pointed out that an incorporated Okanagan Falls would reduce the B.C. government’s costs for road maintenance and policing, but would also result in less rural tax revenue and increased pressure on its small community grant budget.

Siddon said with important upcoming community projects on the horizon, such as the implementation of an Eastside Road transit service and beginning of a downtown revitalization project, he’s going to set aside the issue of incorporation for now.

However, he has had discussions with the RDOS to create a development advisory committee that would act as a “de facto town council” and make recommendations to him that he could then take to the board.