Handfield: Local government conservation funds

Public opinion polls over the past 10 years show a vast majority of South Okanagan residents think nature contributes to quality of life.

Public opinion polls over the past 10 years show a vast majority of South Okanagan residents think that our impressive natural landscapes, ecosystems and abundant and varied wildlife contribute greatly to the quality of life we enjoy here in the Okanagan.

These same surveys show that local people see the importance of protecting natural areas and believe local governments should do more to help preserve our environment. However, funding is often a major stumbling block for local governments and conservation organizations.

One of the ways to at least partially address the funding issue is to consider conservation in all its many guises as another service that should be provided by local governments much as they provide policing, sewer, trash pick-up, recycling, etc.

No one would expect policing or potable water provision to be left to individual fund raising or non-profit groups dependent on bake-sales for funding. To this end the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen is currently looking at the possibility of establishing a Regional Government Conservation Fund to help address this funding issue.

Now before you jump up and say “I already pay enough taxes” at least take a look at what is proposed and what other communities in B.C. are doing.

In its simplest manifestation, a small tax (say $10 or $20) per property is paid into a dedicated fund which cannot be used for any purpose other than approved conservation projects. A board is usually established to determine how the funds are to be spent.

The whole thing works much like the Highway Trust Fund in the U.S. where all of the federal gasoline tax goes into a trust fund that can only be spent on highways; as a result U.S. highways in general are much superior to Canadian highways that have to be individually funded from general tax revenues.

Currently in B.C. there are five regional districts that have Conservation Funds, those being the Central Okanagan Regional District, the East Kootenay Regional District, the Central Kootenay Regional District, the Cowichan Valley Regional District and the Capital Regional District (Victoria and surrounding areas).

The oldest of these is the Capital RD fund which was established in 2000 while the others range from 2006 to 2014. The exact details vary from one district to another but they all are not only successful in accomplishing their goals but all seem to be very popular.

An example of their popularity is that when the Capital RD fund came up for renewal (funds are usually established with a life of 10 years) voters not only overwhelmingly approved its reinstatement, they approved raising the annual levy (now it averages $20 per household).

In some districts the levy is a flat fee per parcel while others do it by assessed value. I believe the highest levy is the Central Okanagan where it averages about $26 per household.

Generally these funds allow regional districts to partner with other conservation groups to greatly increase the amount of money available for parkland purchase and other conservation projects.

As an example of this making our tax dollars go further the Capital Regional District since 2000 has purchased over $48 million worth of regional parklands of which nearly 30 per cent was contributed by outside organizations such as The Nature Conservancy of Canada and others.

I believe an RDOS Conservation Fund is an idea whose time has come.  I urge local residents to learn more about this proposal and express their support to their local Regional Director.  For a full explanation go to www.soscp.org

The next monthly meeting of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club will be Jan. 28. Check our website (www.southokanagannature.com) for details.

Bob Handfield is president of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club but the views expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of the Club.

 

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