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Imagine Salt Spring Island with our local town council made up of friends and neighbours using their dedication, compassion and vision to take care of our island. A council that held all meetings on island so we could attend and help make decisions for the well being of the whole island, not just the well being of one branch of government or another.  

This is what we envision in voting YES for a Salt Spring Island Municipality.

We all know what we love about Salt Spring -- the unique community, inspiring inhabitants and rural quality of life are just a few. Of course we all want to preserve this, but we need to be real, and look at what the problems are that our community is currently facing. Affordable housing, securing our water systems, infrastructure funding, long term planning, socially equitable solutions so that more than just well-off people can afford to move to Salt Spring. We need to make sure we uphold a diverse socio-economic community while continuing to be guided by the sacred land trust that has preserved the beauty of our island home.

The problem with our current system is that we have a patchwork of many independent authorities each making isolated decisions: the CRD, the Local Trust Committee, the Fire District, the Province, and four water districts. Making independent decisions, they can not combine to form a holistic vision for the whole community.

The Islands Trust has been instrumental in helping our island retain its rural character. And this won’t change. The Islands Trust remains under both the current and a municipal system. It is important to consider that the current system is NOT the Trust. There is much more we can achieve if we come together under a municipal system bringing much needed cohesion and decision making under one roof.

On local issues this means more effective decision making leading to tangible results, like finally finishing the Ganges Boardwalk, finding a permanent solution for the plight of the Tree House Cafe and avoiding unnecessary conflict over single issues as happened to Fraser Thimble Farms Nursery. It also means developing financial and sustainability plans, pursuing environmental leadership initiatives, having direct access to needed infrastructure grants and leadership to follow through on affordable housing. For a caring community like ours, it is painful and dysfunctional that an affordable housing project like the one on Norton Road took over 12 years for final approval.

On the housing issue alone, a municipality has greater powers to address the situation than exists at present, including ownership of land and partnering with the private sector. Our current system requires community housing initiatives to work with the CRD, the Trust, Waterworks, Fire and the Province to forward their cause. This makes it virtually impossible to get timely results and there have been few successes -- along with unfortunate and heartbreaking failures, despite monumental efforts by some community members.

If affordable housing is deemed an important community priority a Salt Spring Municipality could spearhead and lead projects with community groups to be truly visionary -- and with much more efficiency than with our current unstable and uncertain system From the 2013 governance study: “ Under a municipal system, the main impact in relation to affordable housing is that the municipality would take the lead local role in the provision of affordable housing, and it would continue to participate in the CRD housing services (i.e. Housing Secretariat and Housing Trust Fund). Additionally, while the Local Trust Committee is currently able to enter into housing agreements, a municipality would have the ability to hold property and the administration of housing agreements would be more straightforward, without a need for third party administration of housing agreements.”<

We believe in the positive potentials of municipal governance and we believe in our community with so many creative and benevolent people willing to participate.

Our island is blessed with kilometres of roadways that wind through the rural landscape. Many of these roads evolved from tracks and trails originally set in place by the first farmers and villagers. Under the management of a municipal government, all of the roads on the island would be maintained and repaired as part of the community infrastructure plan - a plan that would be developed by the locally elected council and administered by the municipality itself.

The analysis provided by the official studies identifies current road costs with a recommended improvement program over the next 15-30 years. Recently our elected officials - our two Islands Trust representatives and our CRD director have issued a press release to the community advising that an alternative citizen analysis circulating as part of the referendum campaigning contains false assumptions and material factual errors.

Currently, the province makes no commitment to increase road maintenance if the status quo is retained.

A municipality would mean that Salt Spring gets tangible benefits that we will not otherwise have, including having the province maintain our roads tax free for the first five years of incorporation. This allows the municipality to build up a reserve fund for discretionary purposes. The Final Report shows this fund growing to almost $13 million before we take on responsibility for roads. As well, the province has committed about $6 million to address slope stability issues on Walker’s Hook Road and to resurface and widen the entire length of Fulford-Ganges Road.

Salt Springers should know that implementing all of the Road Assessment Report’s recommendations is not mandatory - it would be up to the municipality as to when, and if we carry out the noted improvements.

To generate revenue the municipality has many options including use of reserves, borrowing to spread the cost out over time, use of grant revenue (eg Community Works Fund or the Strategic Priorities Fund), and of course increased taxes. The Final Report Appendix D page 6 also states that proper maintenance will greatly extend the life of our roads. Page 204 of the Final Report tells us that if the full program recommended by the Road Report were implemented over 15-30 years, and if it were funded solely from taxes, the tax increase per average assessment would be $65 – $207 annually. This is the most extreme case, since other options are available as above, and since a council may choose not to implement the program in full. Under the status quo, nothing about roads is within our control. What we get and what we pay is at the discretion of the province. Becoming a municipality gives us a head start of approximately $19 million in cash and improvements, and gives us control over our future.

In the overall question, there is far more upside having our own roads than not.

Salt Spring is a unique and special place, and that the character of the island is what draws many people here to live, work or play. It is important to preserve and protect it. Our blend of rugged mountains and pastoral farmlands is framed by the kilometres of waterfront and beach areas that define the island.

We all take pride in our focus on supporting local farmers, businesses, our farm stands, our market and having no national big brand stores. Remember the few that came and went due to lack of customer support? These values are embraced by all of us who live here.

Salt Spring was settled by immigrants from many lands, some who came here to avoid persecution, others who adopted our island after leaving their island homes further away. African American settlers, farmers and fishers from the Hawaiian Islands as well as European visitors all learned to live together with the people of the Salish Sea - the original inhabitants of indigenous settlements and fishing camps. Today, we see a blend of cultures and lifestyles that make us the envy of the rest of the country. Nowhere else in Canada do you find such an eclectic history and one tied so strongly to immigration and adaptation.

That is why we believe that the time is right for Salt Spring to change from an island governed by administrators in Victoria to one governed here at home, by islanders.

Some are afraid our island character is at risk with local decision making. Some say a ‘yes’ vote will create an “urban style” municipality. However, it is inaccurate to suggest that municipal government is only suited to urban communities. More than two-thirds of BC’s 162 municipalities have fewer people than Salt Spring and they range in size from villages of fewer than 250 persons to full sized cities. Across Canada there are literally hundreds of rural municipalities.

Salt Spring would be uniquely governed as an Island Municipality - as provided for by the Islands Trust Act. There is nothing in the Act or in Islands Trust policy to say that municipal government doesn’t make sense for communities like ours. There is also nothing in the incorporation study to suggest any change to our current rural culture. Bowen Island has been an island municipality within the Trust since 1999. Salt Spring will not be the first to travel this route.

Improvement districts, like the fire district and four water districts, would dissolve within 5 years, shifting existing service responsibility and reporting to the municipality. Similarly, responsibility for roads, subdivision approvals, land use planning and services now provided through the CRD would shift to the municipality, which would have authority to contract with the CRD as needed for provision of services like bus, library and swimming pool.

There is nothing “urban” implied by adopting local government in a rural setting.

Self management is crucial to be able to form cohesive planning for the future. This is why we believe that the time is right for Salt Spring to change from an island governed by administrators in Victoria to one governed here at home, by islanders.

According to the Trust Impact Study and the Trust’s Transition Plan, there is no reason to believe the Trust will be seriously weakened if Salt Spring becomes a municipality. The Trust’s own assessment is summarized in its transition plan. “The possible incorporation of Salt Spring Island (SSI) is a significant event, but it is not a threat to the existence of the Islands Trust.”

The Islands Trust Act provides for municipal government, and Trust policy supports a community’s right to choose. Every Trust area island remains part of the Trust whether it has a municipal government or not. Suggestions that a municipality will handicap the Island’s Trust are inaccurate and only serve to inject fear and confusion into the question.

Currently Salt Spring pays more to the Trust than the island gets back in services. This means we provide a subsidy for planning services among the other twelve Trust area islands. The Trust’s impact analysis shows there would be a net budget shortfall of $540,000 which can be covered by having other area islanders pay their fair share (about $53 per $500,000 property assessment) or by varying service levels. The Trust has not yet decided whether to tax other island residents more or reduce services or take a combined approach. It is also possible that the Trust and a newly formed Salt Spring municipality might lobby the province for additional funding.

Currently, the people of BC (for whom the Trust was established) pay just 2% of the Trust’s budget, $7.7 million approved this year.

There is nothing in the studies to suggest a link between local, centralized government and increased development. It is also false to say that a municipality has a predisposition toward development. In fact, the door to development is already open with thousands of development potentials approved or allowed within our current zoning – put in place by the Islands Trust. This includes Channel Ridge with hundreds of homes allowed (subject to water), as one obvious example. Page 16-17 of the Final Report show that current zoning provides for a long term build-out that adds 2,497 properties – under the existing system. Whether one likes this or not, it is a fact. In the past 15 years there has been no rush of developers arriving to take advantage.

This is because the pace of development is also controlled by the market place. Channel Ridge and Bullock Lake have both gone through spectacular bankruptcies. The current system isn’t responsible for the slower pace of build-out and having a municipality wouldn’t accelerate it. At present absorption rates it would take many decades for full build-out to occur. A municipality is also legally bound to observe the aims of the Trust with approval needed for changes to the Official Community Plan (OCP). Changes to the Official Community Plan (OCP) would have to be referred to the Trust for approval. However, the Trust can refuse to approve if the changes are contrary to the Trust policy statement. If the Trust did not approve the changes, the municipality could ask the province for mediation which would have to be decided with regard to the position of the Trust. (from the Incorporation Study). Since the Bowen Island Municipality was formed 18 years ago, there has never been a need for arbitration.

According to the Study’s Final Report page 117: “In Bowen Island’s case, the letters patent require the municipality to submit all non-OCP bylaws that regulate land use, or refer to a matter in the Islands Trust Policy Statement, to the Islands Trust for comment. If the Trust Executive Committee indicates that such a bylaw is inconsistent with the Policy Statement, then Bowen Island “must notify the minister responsible for local government, which could provide advice or require a dispute resolution process. It is expected that the Ministry would put similar conditions in place in the letters patent should Salt Spring Island choose to incorporate.”

Moving to a municipal form of government will also ensure that the democratic rights of all island residents are protected and maintained. Currently, only property owners are allowed to vote in most local referendums that involve infrastructure spending or monetary commitments. Renters who pay property taxes through their rent payments are not currently represented in decisions made by the water authorities or the fire service. Becoming a municipality ensures that all adult Canadians resident on Salt Spring have the right to vote and fully participate in the governance of their community.

Taxes will not skyrocket. The incorporation study provides a detailed financial and tax impact analysis. Some things cost more, some things cost less. On an apples to apples basis the tax impact is about $10 more for the average property assessed at $480,000.

Farms are the exception: there are currently approximately 200 active farms on the island. Active farms will pay an average of $201 more each year. Page 194 of the Final Report shows that the impact on farm properties is $57 more per $100,000 in assessed value of home improvements only (not land value). In other words, a farm with a value of $500,000, with a land value of $300,000 would pay $114 more per year in taxes. The Final Report and a more concise Executive Summary can be found at the public library as well as on this web site under “References”.

A local council would have the ability to create alternative scenarios for farm taxes, as the local leadership would be able to form and enact policy according to the collective locals ideals.

Of course, costs can still go up under a municipal structure just as they have gone up under the current system. Everything depends on our local council, what the public supports and what decisions get made. The community has not been afraid of this process in the past nor is there reason to fear the process with a shift to a centralized, more accessible and accountable local government.

The 2015-16 study addressed the history of taxes under our diffused governance model in this fact sheet. It shows that property taxes for local services on Salt Spring rose threefold in the last fifteen years. This is on the higher end of similar municipalities elsewhere. While rising taxes are and have been a fact of life, voting “Yes” means spending and any rate of tax increases will be decided locally.

Look who's voting YES...

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The fears about losing the Islands Trust preserve and protect mandate expressed by the 'no' side are NOT SUPPORTED by Trust policy or the Trust's own study.

Please vote YES on September 9th for a Healthy and Sustainable Future. Advance polls open August 30th.