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South Okanagan awaits word on major projects

Local MLAs give no indication of when funding will be in place for correctional centre and hospital expansion

Two major projects in the South Okanagan remain in limbo pending funding decisions from the provincial government, and the area’s men in Victoria have asked their local counterparts for continued patience.

But Liberal MLAs Bill Barisoff and John Slater offered little in the way of new information on a proposed new jail in Oliver and hospital expansion in Penticton during their appearance last week at a board meeting of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.

RDOS directors were told the proposed $300-million expansion of Penticton Regional Hospital is still awaiting a decision from the Treasury Board, but Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid, who took over the portfolio in September, is scheduled to tour the facility Wednesday.

“I think it’s an indication that she knows the priority of it, she knows our priorities of it. I think we’ve got lots of things happening in the South Okanagan that lend itself to the need,” said Barisoff, the MLA for Penticton.

Barisoff added that he and Slater have worked hard to ensure the two previous health ministers also knew the importance of PRH expansion. But despite the local duo’s efforts, and the project’s spot atop Interior Health’s wish list, the last round of regional hospital funding went to Kamloops in July.

“Kamloops was a bit of a surprise to a lot of the MLAs in the Okanagan, to be honest with you,” said Slater, who represents Boundary-Similkameen.

Summerland Mayor Janice Perrino, who chairs the Okanagan-Similkameen Regional Hospital District, told the MLAs that the area is due for some capital dollars.

According to figures she compiled, over the past  decade, the North Okanagan has received capital funding for health care totalling about $92 per person, the Central Okanagan has received $108 and the South Okanagan $22. Vernon and Kelowna received significant hospital upgrades, she noted, as should Penticton.

“It’s about fairness,” said Perrino, who has already lined up $140 million locally for PRH expansion and is seeking the additional $160 million from Victoria.

Meanwhile, Osoyoos Mayor Stu Wells wanted to know how flagging provincial finances might affect the funding decision needed to begin work on the Okanagan Regional Correctional Centre, which is supposed to open just north of Oliver in 2016.

“When we still have these shortfalls coming in and the finance minister saying it’s going to get tough, I guess my question is: Where does that leave the correction facility?” Wells asked.

Slater said neither he nor Barisoff sits on Treasury Board so they’re “not privy to the weights and balances” that affect such decisions. But he assured that the jail, which the province announced in February 2012 would be sited on Osoyoos Indian Band property, is still on the government’s radar.

“It’s still there. It’s a priority for the province. They need the facility, too…. It’s not just a gift to the South Okanagan. It’s a facility that’s needed in the province. So they’re still looking at it and it’s still way up there on the priority list,” Slater said.

A briefing note prepared for the Treasury Board in November 2011 and obtained by the Western News pegged the total capital cost of the new 360-cell jail at $273.5 million and estimated its annual operating cost at $60 million.