Frequently Asked Questions

Feel free to contact us with any further questions.


VOTING

If Salt Spring becomes a municipality, what happens with local voting from then on?

If the referendum passes, there will be an initial election for a mayor and council, with normal voter eligibility rules. The Local Government Act prescribes a four year schedule for local elections.  The advice from the ministry is that in the event of the island voting for incorporation, municipal elections are likely to take place in October 2018. If elections do take place in October 2018, this would be the start of the first four year cycle.


How many voted in the last local election in 2014?

About 2500 voted in the 2014 election.  A turnout of 1/3 at local elections is par for the course.


How many registered voters are there on Salt Spring?

As of October 2014, there were about 7500 registered voters on Salt Spring.  Fewer voters are registered for fire and water improvement district elections, as the franchise is restricted to landowners within the particular district.


Will there be mail ballots?

Yes. Here is the info from the CRD website:

Mail Ballot Voting is available to qualified Resident Electors or Non-Resident Property Electors who:

  • have a physical disability, illness or injury that affects their ability to vote at another voting opportunity, or
  • expect to be absent from the regional district on general voting day (Saturday, September 9, 2017) and at the times of all advance voting opportunities (Wednesday, August 30 and September 6, 2017).

How to Vote By Mail:

Eligible electors who meet the criteria must submit a completed mail ballot application form as early as possible in advance of general voting day, September 9, 2017. Completed application forms may be submitted via email, mail, in person or via fax at the following contact information listed below:

Capital Regional District, Legislative & Corporate Services

5th floor, 625 Fisgard Street, PO Box 1000, Victoria, BC, V8W 2S6

Fax: 250.360.3130.

If you are not on the Provincial Resident Elector List or the CRD Non-Resident Property List of Electors, you may register at the time of filling in your mail ballot.

Once your application to vote by mail ballot is approved by the Chief Elections Officer or designate, and when the mail ballot packages are available (tentatively August 16), the mail ballot package will be mailed to you, or you can arrange to pick it up at the CRD address noted above.

If we receive your application at a date that does not permit mailing, you should arrange to pick up a package from the CRD, Legislative & Corporate Services, at the address listed above. To be counted for the referendum voting, your mail ballot must be received by the Chief Election Officer, or delegate, no later than 8pm on September 9, 2017 at the CRD address listed above. It is the obligation of the person applying to vote by mail ballot to ensure that the mail ballot is received by the Chief Election Officer within this time limit.

Complete information is available here: https://www.crd.bc.ca/about/how-we-are-governed/elections-other-voting/2017-other-voting/salt-spring-island-incorporation-referendum

Who Can Vote:

You are entitled to vote as a Non-Resident Property Elector if you:

  • Are 18 years or older on voting day (April 30, 2016)
  • Are a Canadian Citizen
  • Have resided in British Columbia for the past six months
  • Have owned and held registered title to property within the boundaries of Salt Spring Island (as described above) for the past 30 days, and do not qualify as a Resident Elector, and provided that you:
    1. Have registered on or before August 10, 2017; or
    2. Apply at the time of voting. The following information is required at the time of registration:
      • A recent title search, state of title certificate, or property tax notice, showing the names of all of the registered owners,
      • 2 pieces of identification proving identity and residency (one must have a signature), and
      • In the case of more than one owner of the property, a completed CRD Consent Form signed by the majority of the owners designating you as the person entitled to vote for the property (original signatures only; facsimiles of signatures not acceptable).

Complete information is available here: https://www.crd.bc.ca/about/how-we-are-governed/elections-other-voting/2017-other-voting/salt-spring-island-incorporation-referendum

Please Note:

  • Only one Non-Resident Property Elector may vote per property, regardless of how many owners there may be. Further, you may vote for only one property, no matter how many properties you own within Salt Spring Island.
  • You may register on voting day if you meet the qualifications set out above. If you are already registered as a Non-Resident Property Elector on the CRD Non-Resident Property List of Electors, and provided that you still meet all of the requirements of the Local Government Act in order to be registered under this category, you are not required to re-register in order to vote.
  • No corporation is entitled to be registered as an elector or have a representative registered as an elector, and no corporation is entitled to vote. Individuals who are on title with corporations are not entitled to register or vote. Individuals who own an undivided interest in land on which the balance is held by a corporation are not entitled to vote.

Proof of Identity:

The following are acceptable classes of documents for proof of identity:

  • BC driver’s licence or BC driver’s licence and services card
  • BC ID card issued by the Motor Vehicle Branch
  • BC CareCard or Gold CareCard
  • Request for Continued Assistance form SDES8
  • Social Insurance Card (Canada)
  • Citizenship Card (Canada)
  • Real property tax notice (municipal or rural)
  • Credit card or debit card issued by a savings institution
  • Utility bill

Will there be advance polls?

Yes: Advance polls will be Aug 30 and Sept 6.


Who is eligible to vote?

You have to be a Canadian citizen, at least 18 years old, and have been a resident of BC for six months and of Salt Spring for at least 30 days before the regular voting day.  Renters are included provided they meet the general criteria.  If you are not a resident of Salt Spring but have owned land on Salt Spring for at least 30 days before voting day, you may also vote if you satisfy the other criteria.


When do we make our choice?

The province has set a referendum date of Saturday, September 9, 2017.

URBANIZATION CONCERNS

Does a YESS! vote mean an “urban style municipality”?

No. Wikipedia explains “urban” as meaning both a high population density and infrastructure of built environment. This isn’t Salt Spring, and 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 and Salt Spring would be another.

Salt Spring would be an Island Municipality as provided for by the Islands Trust Act. There is nothing in legislation 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 centralized local government in a rural setting.

Canada is filled with hundreds of rural municipalities and Salt Spring would remain a rural island community within the Trust, guided by the same mandate as always.


CORPORATENESS CONCERNS:

Isn’t a municipality a corporation — much different than our rural system?

A municipality is a corporation but our current system is made up of multiple corporations. In fact the Islands Trust alone is made up of 15 corporations.

The CRD, the fire district and the water districts like NSSWD are also corporations. Within the CRD there are more corporations, like the CRD Housing Corporation. All public corporations are set up to serve the public interest. A municipality is no different, except that it replaces governance by multiple unconnected corporations with a locally elected central body to provide oversight and decision making for local services.

A corporation is nothing more than a group of citizens authorized to act as a single entity. As such it can speak with one voice and act accordingly. Currently Salt Spring derives its governance and taxation from multiple, unconnected corporations. Each is providing services from within its own silo, setting its own costs and priorities, and managing a piece of our island life.

A municipality changes all this and gives Salt Spring a means to give form to the community’s aspirations with one voice through a single, locally elected authority. It also means local responsibility for taxation and accountability for service delivery.

In addition, more than two-thirds of BC’s 162 municipalities have fewer people than Salt Spring, ranging from hamlets of fewer than 250 people to full sized cities. There is nothing in the Islands Trust Act or in Trust policy to suggest that a municipality is not suitable for a community like ours. In fact, the Act provides for this option and Trust policy affirms the right of each island community to choose.

OTHER OPTIONS

Why didn’t the province allow us to look at other options, maybe something between what we have now and a municipality?

As the province explained through the course of the 2013 Governance Study and the 2016 Incorporation Study, there is no other option.  The only legislatively available alternative to the non-municipal model we have now is the municipal model.


Why can’t we consider a Local Community Commission (LCC) as a governance option?

An LCC is actually a governance non-option, since it would be merely a tweak of the status quo. On Salt Spring Island, an LCC would be yet another commission created under the auspices of the CRD, which has the power to create and/or to later dissolve any commissions.  An LCC would have advisory capacities restricted to local CRD service matters, with final budgeting decisions made by the CRD as usual in Victoria, where our CRD director has one vote in a total of 24.  The addition of an LCC (even if the CRD had any appetite for it) leaves the status quo untouched.

By contrast, the 2013 Governance Study found widespread thematic concerns about the current situation, which can only be addressed by the municipal model.  The study also found by a margin of 2:1 there was broad support for getting more detailed information about the municipal option in order to address those concerns.  This leads us to where we are now.

For further information, please see the detailed analysis provided by the 2016 Study committee, entitled “Dissecting a Governance Non-option”.  Read it here.

The choice is an either/or.   What we have now, or a single locally elected town council (municipality) – meaning Salt Springers making decisions on behalf of Salt Springers.

TAXATION CONCERNS:

What happens to my taxes? I’m worried that they will skyrocket.

Taxes will not skyrocket. The incorporation study provides a detailed financial and tax impact analysis showing the tax impact is almost nothing for the vast majority.   

Farms are the exception: there are about 200 farms that will pay an average of $201 more each year.  A municipality might choose to mitigate this impact by some creative means, but then again the community might object to providing exemptions for expensive farm homes that range to over $2.8 million in value.  Page 194  of the
Final Report shows that the impact on farm properties is $57 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”.

Of course, costs can still go up under a municipal structure just as they have gone up under the current system.  Everything depends on who is elected to office, 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.

INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDS

How will a municipality affect the cost of things like a new fire hall or new water treatment plants?

Under the current system, fire and water improvement districts do not qualify for infrastructure grants, unlike a municipality or the CRD.  The benefits of such grants can be significant.  For example, through the CRD, the cost of the library to Salt Spring tax payers was reduced by over $4 million, leaving a price tag of just $2.8 million.

There are currently four water improvement districts and the fire district, and needed improvements run to the many millions of dollars.  There is no word from the fire district or three of the water districts, but NSSWD has said if the referendum fails, it will seek to be administered by the CRD.  Readers can ask themselves if they have more confidence in the CRD to manage our affairs or if they would rather have local control.


What about jobs? My friend works for one of the local government agencies and she is worried that she may not have a job if we become a municipality.

Existing jobs at our local government agencies would transfer to the municipality.

More importantly, we currently pay or share the expense of many government employees who live in Greater Victoria.  Over time, a municipal council has greater ability to bring these jobs to the island where the financial and social benefits stay within the community.

ROAD CONCERNS

What about roads?  Can we really afford them?  Some worry that the province’s “transition assistance” is really a con to get us to assume a ridiculous long term liability.

We do not presently get our roads for free.  Present day road expenditures roughly match what we pay in rural taxes. Since the province doesn’t provide road services for free, will the province raise our taxes or not if there are extraordinary expenses in the future?  If our roads need work, it’s because the province hasn’t done enough in the past.  The province makes no commitment to increase road maintenance if the status quo is retained.

A municipality means Salt Springers get quite a bit that we would 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 to support taking on this responsibility.  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.

Implementing all of the Road Assessment Report’s recommendations is not mandatory and would be up to the municipality as to when, and if to do.

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), 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 real control over our future. Transition funds are available to all communities and represent assistance that  a new municipality is entitled to as its share of provincial funding.


What about road standard. Don’t we have to meet provincial regulations?

No, it’s up to the municipal council. There are generally accepted guidelines for roads, but considerable variation is allowed in local standards. For example, Vancouver and Metchosin have different standards, yet both are municipalities. On Bowen Island, the municipal council has chosen to set road standards that allow for narrow, curvier, steeper roads with lower speed limits than existed before the municipality was formed. Like Bowen, Salt Spring will be able to make its own decisions about what standards are suitable.  This means having local decision making on what needs to be spent and when for road maintenance and capital works.

HOUSING

It seems like we have been studying needs for affordable housing without a lot of progress.  Can a municipality help us move forward so working people can afford to live here?

Affordable housing is a concern everywhere and a municipality will not be able to magically fix this overnight.  However, a municipality has greater powers to address the situation than exist at present, including ownership of land and partnering with the private sector.

Our current system requires community groups 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 considering all the well intended effort.

If affordable housing is deemed an important community priority a Salt Spring Municipality could spearhead and lead projects with community groups much more efficiently than with our current 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.”

POLICING

Will we have our own police force?  Will this cost more?

As a  municipality we will continue contracting services from the RCMP.  Some municipalities have their own force, but this will be a decision of council.  Through council, islanders will have more influence on policing priorities and initiatives than we have in our current system.

Council will determine the policing budget. However, based on apples to apples comparison for current staffing, policing will cost us more.  This is only relevant in the overall impact on property taxes, though.  Some things will cost more as a municipality, some things will cost less.

DEVELOPMENT CONCERNS

Do supporters of a municipality belong to the pro-development lobby?

No. There is absolutely no evidence to support this claim. People supporting YESS! and a centralized local government come from all walks of life – old, young, working, retired, artists, merchants, crafts and trades people, farmers, service providers and professionals.  Supporters come from a broad cross section of the community.

The community pays about $12 million in local taxes.  Those supporting YESS! want more transparency, accountability and local control.


But doesn’t a YESS! vote mean more development?

Absolutely not.  There is nothing in the studies to suggest a link between local, centralized government and increased 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.

A municipality is also legally bound by “preserve and protect”, with Trust approval needed for changes to the Official Community Plan (OCP) and existing land use bylaws.  Changes to the Official Community Plan (OCP) would have to be referred to the Trust for approval. However, the Trust can exercise a veto if the changes are contrary to the Trust policy statement.  If the Trust did not approve the changes, the municipality could ask the Minister of Community Sport and Cultural Development for arbitration 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.”


But won’t applications be processed more quickly with a municipality and won’t that speed overall development?

The pace of development remains under the control of council and as discussed, Islands Trust. A new municipality will inherit the existing Official Community Plan and current bylaws. There is no indication an island council would say yes or no more easily than now. It would depend on many factors. The object of the Trust is still paramount. Neighbours would still be consulted. Environmental, drainage and other reports would still be warranted, depending on the circumstances.

If today’s development pace is acceptable because informed voters choose wise officials, then what reason is there to think it would be different with a municipality? The electorate and the candidates for office won’t change just because of the form of government.

Speed of development is affected far more by economic conditions than how fast a permitting office works. If the economic climate is not right, a landowner will not begin to build or develop just because he/she might save a bit of processing time.

ISLANDS TRUST CONCERNS

How will becoming a municipality impact 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 mean the death of the Island’s Trust are inaccurate and only serve to inject fear and confusion into the question.

The Trust’s own assessment is summarized in the second sentence of 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.”

Currently Salt Spring pays more to the Trust than the island gets back in services.  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, proposed for the coming fiscal year to be $7.7 million.


What exactly is Salt Spring’s ongoing relationship to the Trust if we become a municipality?  Does Salt Spring leave the Trust?

Salt Spring does not leave the Trust and the Trust, as noted, continues. Two members of council, elected by the residents of Salt Spring, would sit on the Trust Council and vote on region wide policy, initiatives and budgeting. Responsibility for local zoning and planning would shift from the local trust committee (which would be dissolved) to the municipality. For the first three years following incorporation, Trust staff would continue to provide local planning services and the municipality would continue to pay for them as though it were still a rural area. After that the municipality can hire its own planning staff and Salt Spring would continue its membership in the Trust as described above. Our locally elected trustees would also continue voting on the Trust’s area-wide initiatives.

Additionally, changes to the Official Community Plan (OCP) would have to be referred to the Trust for approval. However, the Trust can exercise a veto if the changes are contrary to the Trust policy statement. If the Trust did not approve the changes, the municipality could ask the Minister of Community Sport and Cultural Development for arbitration.

According to the 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.”


How much does Salt Spring Island pay in Islands Trust taxes? What percentage is that of the whole Islands Trust budget?

For fiscal 2017, the Islands Trust levied general property taxes of $2.31 million on Salt Spring. That is about 37% of the total $6.25 million in taxes collected by the Trust. Salt Spring’s percentage contribution varies slightly year to year but has been in the 37-40% range for the past decade. To the extent identified above, Salt Spring subsidizes services for the other islands, amounting to $540,000 per year. (Figures are from Islands Trust documents.)

HEY-DON’T-WORRY-BE-HAPPY CONCERNS

Why fix it if it ain’t broke?

Something doesn’t have to be broken to need “fixing”.  A computer purchased in 1998 might still work within its capacities, but would it still do the jobs required in 2017?  When it comes to embracing or resisting change, there are consequences one way or the other.

The 2013 Governance Study compared the fractured system we have now with the municipal alternative.  The public engagement program found widespread concern about the current system, identifying the desire for: more representation and local decision making; a single authority for decision making; coordination in service delivery; capacity for strategic; and financial planning and more.  By a margin of two to one, participants in the study wanted a detailed picture of what things would look like as a municipality.  This brings us to where we are now.  The 2016 Incorporation Study provides the information needed for the community to make an informed decision.  Please see the References section for all the relevant studies.

YESS! encourages anyone with further questions to begin with a review of the executive summaries and to talk with knowledgeable friends. You may also contact YESS! directly and we will get back to you with an answer, or refer you to the place you may find it for yourself.

Readers can then decide themselves if a single local elected authority with mandated standards of professionalism, transparency and accountability holds more promise for Salt Spring .  Does the glass look more than half empty in the current system, and does it look more than half full with a municipality?

INFORMATION CONCERNS

Is there enough information to be able to make an informed decision? Shouldn’t we be able to answer questions about the future with 100% assurance?

The study and discussion process has taken approximately 6 years from the time our elected officials asked the province to fund a study.  The studies are complete and there has been ample time to learn.  But as with anything, the future cannot be predicted. It comes down to a matter of trust, based on what’s currently known.  In this case it’s a question of “do we trust ourselves and our community to make the best overall decisions going forward?”  We say “YESS!”

Please see the “References” section and review the studies which address everything known about staying with the status quo or becoming a municipality.  

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