The Village of Kaslo has decided against participating in a referendum this fall to create a fund on Kootenay Lake for conservation projects.
Although initially included on the ballot, council voted four to one against joining three rural areas in the fall plebiscite which will ask residents if they’re willing to pay a $15 annual parcel tax for ten years.
“I’m not supporting it at this time,” said councillor Molly Leathwood. “At a later date, once we see how it rolls out, I could support it. But I don’t feel there’s enough justification for the citizens of Kaslo to participate.”
Councillor Rob Lang said he felt village taxpayers got hit with a “fairly substantial increase” due to the new fire hall and “I don’t think we need to be adding additional taxes, regardless of how seemingly minuscule that might be.”
Councillor Suzan Hewat said she agreed with letting the public decide but was concerned owners of multiple lots would be asked to pay much more than $15 per year. She also felt council hadn’t been given enough time to consider all the information.
Mayor Greg Lay agreed the parcel tax approach concerned him and suggested conservation groups already had access to funding. “We don’t have to sign on right away,” he said. “We can join at anytime. I think we would have a better chance convincing people if we actually see the results.”
He also asked why Nelson and Creston weren’t participating.
Councillor Jim Holland, the lone vote in favour, disputed most of his fellow council members’ points. He said the average house in Kaslo is paying the same or slightly less in taxes since a new fire service was created and that Creston is not on the lake.
“I think the impacts are relatively minor. It’s not going to cost the Village of Kaslo a penny at this point and you give residents an opportunity to speak to the issue rather than us deciding,” he said. “When people can weigh the benefits of what can come out of it versus what it’s actually going to cost them, it’s a very small amount of money. It’s well worth it.”
Holland also noted phone surveys determined support for such a fund stood at about 60 per cent in the area. “I think it would be a big mistake if we opted out. This is coming from the people to us, it’s not top down. There is support in the community for this initiative.”
He added the program could help deal with critical issues on the lake as well as things like fire interface work on private land.
With Kaslo’s withdrawal, the total amount to be raised by the proposed parcel tax has been reduced from $121,500 per year to $106,500.
In order to pass, the referendum must win more than 50 per cent support in Area A (East Shore), Area D (Rural Kaslo) and Area E (Rural Nelson) combined. The fund, to be administered by the Kootenay Conservation Program on behalf of the Regional District of Central Kootenay, would follow an example set in East Kootenay, which since 2008 has awarded $1.5 million to 43 projects, ranging from water quality monitoring to reintroduction of endangered species.
The fund is primarily concerned with private land and targeted at projects that government is not already responsible for.