LETTER: Regional relationships are worth work

RDCK rural director Ramona Faust says the City of Nelson changed the financial rules at the last minute on pool renovations.

As we enter the last few weeks of budget preparation in local government it is time to evaluate our relationships.

The buzz words in government circles are regional collaboration, cooperation, and partnerships. During the past six years RDCK Area E and F have contributed to a shared economic development service with Nelson, contributed to the cost and maintenance of Lakeside playing fields, held a library referendum, grant funded hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Nelson District Community Complex, Kootenay Lake Hospital and Nelson based initiatives.

Professionally I have experience developing and working within cooperatives, societies, associations and interdependent government ministries.

I have never had the experience where partners who were working towards a goal decided to stop just before the goal was to be achieved, change the agenda and put conditions on the relationship until the Nelson and District Community Complex aquatic centre repair. Partners asked to alter at least three agreements before proceeding with a repair to a shared building that prior to the election no partner had wanted to postpone. The RDCK had already approved the borrowing bylaw.

Nelson council sent no written reason or record of council decision nor could staff at the RDCK be prepared with information to answer concerns raised. As chair of the commission I was surprised.

In the 1970s, when RDCK recreation commission boundaries were designed, Nelson, Area F and part of Area E were deemed to be part of recreation commission No. 5. You could walk or drive 20 minutes in any direction from outside or inside of Nelson and be at the aquatic center and therefore the boundaries were logical.

The Slocan Valley, Harrop-Procter-Balfour, and Salmo-Ymir are 30 to 45 minutes away and each have their own Recreation Commissions. Area E east has 14 facilities maintained by volunteers without direct taxation.

There is need to review the boundaries of the recreation service given modern commuter patterns. The larger recreation centers have ice and aquatic opportunities not available in smaller communities and people use them. How and when the review was to take place was under discussion by the NDCC Recreation Commission with planning also taking place in other communities. There was no need to impose force. I was further taken aback when it was suggested I could bring a portion of Area E into the service without democratic assent.

Nelson’s population and households exceed those of current Area E and F taxpayers into the NDCC by approximately 40 per cent so Nelson pays more. If all of Area E, F and parts of Area G and H were to contribute, Nelson would still have a slightly higher population in the service. As the largest municipality in the RDCK, Nelson is a regional center where people shop, access professionals and other services. It’s a double edged sword.

In our second meeting, after RDCK staff provided information and options for wider taxation participation in the RDCK recreation complex, it became clear Nelson was not going to vote in favor of the repairs without conditions attached.

One of the conditions was that Nelson be relieved of the $184,200 that it agreed to pay into the NDCC at the time of the referendum for the new rink and under an arrangement by a Provincial Order in Council signed in September 2003 when the province approved a Nelson boundary expansion into Areas E, F and H to take in the dams and receive taxes from them. Nelson has benefitted from that expansion.

This request was made at the end of the meeting and knowing Nelson Councilors time to meet was limited, the Director for Area F had made a prior appointment. Because the RDCK needed to retain or dismiss our consultants, Nelson Councilors and I decided to continue to meet. As chair I had to navigate decision making to allow the repair of the aquatic center to proceed on schedule or abandon $500,000 of consultants work and years of RDCK staff person hours for an unidentified period of time. On behalf of the facility users, condition of the building and RDCK expenditures I agreed to three of Nelson’s requests.

The funds not paid into the NDCC by the dam this year will have to be taxed to the citizens of Nelson, Area F and defined Area E.

It is little wonder my colleague Tom Newell of Area F is unhappy with constituents being taxed these extra funds. The citizens who have been contributing taxes are being penalized and the trust needed for collaboration within the commission is tenuous.

Cooperation, collaboration and democracy are messy. It is my hope we can work in partnership and mutual discussion in the future because positive relationships are worth cultivating.

Ramona Faust, Director, Area E