Some Regional District of Central Kootenay residents may be asked whether they want to contribute to a fund aimed at land conservation.

RDCK considers conservation service

Residents of Kaslo and three rural areas of the Regional District of Central Kootenay may vote this fall on creating a conservation service.

Residents of Kaslo and three rural areas of the Regional District of Central Kootenay may vote this fall on creating a conservation service.

The matter is on the board agenda Thursday, where directors will decide whether to seek approval through referendum or counterpetition, and if the service will be paid for through a parcel tax or by property assessment.

“The service will raise funds that can be used for projects that do not receive funding from either local or senior levels of governments,” according to a staff report. The funds would “provide local financial support for important projects that will contribute to the conservation of valuable natural areas and restore and preserve a healthy environment.”

If approved, it would cost taxpayers in the affected areas — Kaslo, Area D (Rural Kaslo), Area A (East Shore), and Area E (Rural Nelson) — a combined total of $81,000 per year.

Although the regional district would be responsible for final approval of all matters, the Kootenay Conservation Program would administer the fund.

The group’s main goal is to increase private land conservation to protect species and landscapes. They were involved with the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s purchase of the Darkwoods Forest on Kootenay Lake as well as the provincial government’s acquisition of the Valhalla Mile on Slocan Lake.

The regional district staff report doesn’t name any specific projects the conservation service might fund, but Kootenay Conservation Program manager Dave Hillary said a similar fund established in the Upper Columbia Valley in 2006 has paid for things like fencing, water quality monitoring, and invasive plant control.

Poll finds support

In late 2012, the Kootenay Conservation Program hired a polling firm to conduct a telephone survey of 800 East and West Kootenay residents, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The data was weighted to reflect the higher population of East Kootenay.

It found 82 per cent of respondents supported the idea of a region-wide conservation fund, with 59 per cent in favour of a mandatory levy.

“As the concept moves from the idea stage to the financial consideration, support diminishes; however, it remains relatively strong and quite broadly based,” the summary report says.

It concluded there is “a strong base of support for conservation initiatives in the region” and “room for greater effort by local and regional governments.”

It further suggested opposition is likely to come from some landowners, “particularly older males who have lived in the region for three-plus decades.”

Six focus group sessions were also conducted last year throughout the Kootenays.

If the conservation fund is sent to referendum, it’s expected to be held during this fall’s general election and cost $10,000 to $25,000. If successful, that money would be borne by the new service.

It’s unclear, however, whether a single referendum would be held across all areas or separate votes in each. Nor is it known if the conservation fund would still be established if some areas support it and others don’t.

It’s estimated the counterpetition alternative would cost about $3,000, including advertising and a household mail-out.

Regional district staff also indicated if a parcel tax is used, it would cost about $10,000 and “significant” time to contact all property owners in the service area. Updating parcel tax info annually could also take about a week, whereas taxation by assessment would take minimal staff time.

Under the parcel tax option, the 8,100 taxable properties would each be charged $10 annually. Under the assessment method, four cents would be charged per $1,000 of assessed value, so a property worth $250,000 would pay $10 per year.

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