The following is an open letter to all the candidates for district trustees of the North Salt Spring Waterworks District and filed with the Driftwood for publication.
By RAYMOND HEUNG
As you know, an annual general meeting is to be held on April 25, at which time two new trustees will be elected. We hope that the new trustees will be a force of change in order that the district would commit themselves to transparency and open communication in their governance.
As the property owner of Brinkworthy Place (a manufactured home park with 137 households whose residents are 55-plus in age), we have been involved in a dispute relating to the restructuring of the parcel tax initiated by the district in the latter part of 2016. The Driftwood has given coverage to this dispute in the last few months.
In September 2016, we were told by the district that with the restructuring of the parcel tax, that (1) there would not be any change in parcel tax for ratepayers who own single family dwellings (SFD), and (2) since the average water consumption of a manufactured home is the same as the average water consumption of a SFD, each manufactured home in Brinkworthy Place should be treated in the same way as a SFD.
In October, we kept asking the district to provide us with actual consumption data to justify their claim so that we could report such evidence to our tenants, as ultimately they had to pay for such an increase with the new parcel tax. The message that we got back from the district was basically that they had the data to support their claim, so “trust us,” while not recognizing that the average lot at Brinkworthy Place is only 4,800 square feet, the average size of a manufactured home is only 1,100 square feet and the average number of persons per household in our seniors park is only 1.4 persons.
The district also offered to hold a town hall meeting with our residents. We gladly accepted such an offer and a meeting was set up for Dec. 16. Unexpectedly on Dec. 1, we were told that the meeting had to be cancelled as none of the trustees or officers of the district would be available on that date. (A subsequent effort on our part to re-schedule the meeting to January 2017 was rebuffed.)
Frustrated with the stonewalling, within a week we decided to file a lawsuit to challenge the district’s new parcel tax bylaws in the Supreme Court of B.C. During the legal process, the district finally released, perhaps reluctantly, historical consumption data. Surprise! The average water consumption of a manufactured home is not the same as the average consumption of a SFD. As a matter of fact, the consumption of the latter has been about 1.43 times higher than the former. This has only led us to surmise that the decision not to change the parcel tax of ratepayers who own SFD has been adopted out of “political expediency,” as SFD ratepayers perhaps form the dominant group of voters, whereas all of our residents at Brinkworthy Place can not vote.
Now, I have two questions to the candidates. The first question relates to the forthcoming referendum of the incorporation of Salt Spring Island. The final report of the Salt Spring Island Incorporation Study has indicated that “. . . a municipality would be eligible for senior government conditional funding for infrastructure planning and capital projects . . . These sources of conditional grant funding are not available to improvement districts. As an example, the North Salt Spring Waterworks District is not eligible for senior government grant funding for a capital project to raise the Duck Creek Weir.”
On March 18, 2017, the Vancouver Sun reported that the City of White Rock, as a municipality, has been able to obtain over 80 per cent in the form of grants from senior levels of government for a water infrastructure project expected to cost over $14.2 million. Under the NSSWD’s “Fifteen Year Plan 2017 to 2032,” the total cost of capital projects is estimated to be over $28 million. How do you foresee the funding of such projects going forward? Are you in favour of incorporation?
The second question relates to the status quo, i.e. that the NSSWD is to remain as an improvement district. First, do you support the recent restructuring of the parcel tax initiated by the current board of trustees in 2016 for the purpose of funding capital infrastructure projects? Would you generally support the more equitable “property taxation or ad valorem taxation” rather than the antiquated “parcel tax” system of taxation?
Second, for the sake of transparency, would you ensure that in all future referendums for approval of capital projects, the district has to inform the voters as to how such projects are to be funded beforehand?
Third, would you give due consideration in future to treating all Brinkworthy Place residents as property owners (as they are owners of their own homes and do pay property taxes) so they would be able to vote in all referendums and at the AGM, thus eliminating their concern with “taxation without representation?”
The writer is president of Vanac Development Corp. and owns Brinkworthy Place.