Okanagan mayors meet to discuss transit and other issues

The mayors of Kelowna, West Kelowna, Penticton and Vernon hold their quarterly summit.

Two of them may be new but the mayors of the Okanagan’s four biggest municipalities are continuing to work together on issues of mutual interest.

The mayors — Walter Gray of Kelowna, Dan Ashton of Penticton, Doug Findlater of West Kelowna and Vernon’s Robert Sawatzky— met last week as the Intermunicipal Services Advisory Board and are continuing their work on common municipal issues, including transit governance, gas tax funding tier consideration and Provincial services.

The mayors met on Jan. 20 and discussed the directions to take for 2012. This was the first meeting for the two newly-elected mayors, Gray and Sawatzky. Returning to the Intermunicipal Services Advisory Board table were Findlater and Ashton.

“I was very pleased to see that with two new member mayors on the board, the intent of our partnership is intact and we can seamlessly get on with working on our mutual concerns,” said Findlater. “On many issues, our message is made stronger with one voice and pooling our resources is extremely beneficial.”

During the meeting, the group discussed transit governance. All the municipalities say they are committed to investigating options for the delivery of this important public service and are committed to establishing the most effective and cost-efficient system in the Okanagan.

The group agreed to continue to push for Okanagan municipalities to be considered for “tier-one” gas tax funding for future regionally significant projects through the Canada-BC-UBCM Gas Tax Agreement. Currently, municipalities in the Regional District of Central Okanagan are considered for “tier-two” funding, which provides money for regional, not local, projects.

The mayors also discussed their concerns with downloading of costs from the province, with the most recent being stream protection and beach water quality testing. Ongoing concerns that impact all member municipalities were also discussed, including forest fire fuel mitigation funding, Okanagan Lake and transportation issues and these topics will continue to be brought to the table in 2012.

Adopted in September 2008, the Intermunicipal Services Agreement was signed by Kelowna, West Kelowna, Vernon and Penticton. Such agreements between municipalities are allowed under the,Community Charter, which governs how municipalities in B.C. operate.

The four Okanagn council’s are trying to use the agreement to work on regional concerns, tearing down jurisdictional constraints. The Intermunicipal Services Advisory Board is made up of the four  mayors and their respective chief administrative officers and city managers.

In 2009, the municipalities used the agreement to adopt common safe premises bylaws to handle properties found to be cultivating illegal drugs and pursued other common issues, including affordable housing and feral rabbits.

In 2010, the board called for a new approach to the way the  province passes on costs for RCMP policing, launched a joint bylaw dispute adjudication system—which also included Peachland and Lake Country—and joint purchasing arrangements.

Last year, the board sought involvement from senior levels of government on transit, transportation and forest fire fuel reduction issues. It also looked to lobby for continued support of the combined forces Special Enforcement Unit of the RCMP, dedicated to fighting organized crime.

Meetings of the board are held quarterly and alternate between municipalities.

The four mayors represent more than 80 per cent of the Okanagan’s population.