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  • Gayle Baker

A Local Community Commission Primer, Learning About Community Works Funds, and Rooster Lovers Unite

February 9

Thirty joined this ASK Salt Spring gathering to welcome our Local Community Commissioners (LCC) Ben Corno (bcorno@crd.bc.ca), Brian Webster (bwebster@crd.bc.ca), Earl Rook (erook@crd.bc.ca, Gayle Baker (gbaker@crd.bc.ca) and Gary Holman, also our Electoral Director, (directorssi@crd.bc.ca).


After our Territorial Acknowledgment, facilitator Grant Fredrickson began by asking each of our guests what excited and delighted them about being Salt Spring’s first Local Commissioners. Ben began by expressing his pleasure that the months of discussion about the 2024 budget had concluded, allowing the Local Commissioners to turn their full attention to creative solutions to Salt Spring issues.


Earl agreed with Ben’s sentiment, adding that he was looking forward to participating in the continued development of the LCC into its full potential as Salt Spring’s local government. Brian added that he was pleased with the capacity of the LCC to listen to and act on really important local issues: We have started and can do so much more.


While noting that excited was pretty strong word, Gary spoke briefly about recent approval the proposed CRD borrowing of $85 million for affordable housing initiatives (https://www.crd.bc.ca/about/news/article/2024/01/03/regional-alternative-approval-process-launched-to-increase-borrowing-authority-for-housing). He is hopeful that these CRD housing funds, especially when leveraged with federal and provincial funding opportunities, will benefit a number of planned Salt Spring affordable housing projects.


Gayle expressed her appreciation of the comments of other Commissioners, adding that she is so glad to be a part of the team guiding the LCC to fulfill its potential, excited to be a small part of helping to create an ever better Salt Spring.


A participant asked, How much are our taxes going up this year? Earl began by telling the group that, while we do not have the final; numbers yet, in September, the LCC was presented with a budget increase of 20.5% for its services. At that September meeting, $266,000 was reduced from this budget. At its final budget discussion a few weeks ago, additional cuts were approved, reducing the increase in the budget for the services under the authority of the LCC to an increase of 10%.


When combined with other CRD budget expenditures, such as regionally-required contributions as well as services shared by the three Electoral Districts (Salt Spring, Southern Gulf Islands, and Juan de Fuca), the overall CRD requisition increase is around 7%.


Earl reminded that some of these increases are out of our control, such as lingering results of COVID and their impacts on revenue-generating services. Added to these budget impacts out of the control of the LCC are worldwide inflation and CRD union negotiations resulting in increased salary costs.


Gary added that budget impact of SIMS, the former Middle School, was approximately twice the $130,000 that had been estimated when it was originally leased in 2023. While additional recreational programming could eventually reduce this gap, in reality, a primary purpose of leasing SIMS is to provide affordable space to local non-profit groups and these affordable rates require taxpayer support. Gary has been advocating for energy saving investments such as heat pumps (replacing propane), double-paned windows, and more green/economical lighting. Such investments would more than recover their costs over time.


Ben added another factor that increased our 2024 taxes: our Library’s gradual transition from an almost totally volunteer workforce to one of predominantly paid staff due, largely, to a declining number of volunteers.


Local Commissioners worked hard to reduce the increases without reducing service levels. While all Commissioners recognize the need for larger reserves in many of the services they oversee, a majority of commissioners voted to limit transfers to these reserves to help reduce the tax increase. Gary reminded us that decreases in transfers to reserves can be offset by other funding sources such as Community Works Funding (also know as gas tax) and other grants.


The tax increase this year is still higher than ideal from the perspective of some Local Commissioners. Others believe that decisions of previous years to keep tax increases low combined with last year's deficits and staff pay increases have created a budget that is inadequate to serve our future needs.


A participant then asked for a primer - something an 8th grader could understand, please, of the LCC, including its origins and authority. Acknowledging this great question, Brian began by telling us that Local Community Commissions were established through provincial legislation as a governance option for unincorporated communities (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/local-governments/governance-powers/powers-services/regional-district-powers-services/committees-commissions). Requiring approval by the community through a referendum, bylaw(s) are created to identify the services overseen and the level of authority over these services.


The referendum for Salt Spring’s Local Community Commission was held at the same time as local elections, October 15, 2022. Bylaw 4507 that established Salt Spring’s LCC: https://www.crd.bc.ca/docs/default-source/legislative-pdf/referendums/2022-ssi-local-community-commission-(bylaw-4507)/bylawno-4507.pdf?sfvrsn=8745abcd_4).

was approved by a significant majority, 62%, of Salt Spring voters.


The CRD Board subsequently also approved Bylaw 4508 (https://www.crd.bc.ca/docs/default-source/crd-document-library/bylaws/transportationsaltspringisland/bylawno.4508signed.pdf?sfvrsn=4ce733ce_5) establishing levels of authority for those services under the oversight of the Salt Spring LCC.


While the legislation allows for the election of either four or six Local Commissioners, in addition to the Electoral Director who also serves as a Local Commissioner, on Salt Spring, four Local Commissioners were elected on May 27, 2023 from a field of 15 candidates.      


While this LCC has been called Municipality Light, its authority is limited to selected CRD services, with no responsibility for Islands Trust's land use policies, nor our roads or policing, still managed by the province. With significant authority over most local CRD services, the Local Government Act requires all bylaws, even the recently recommended budget bylaw, get CRD Board approval.


While Salt Spring’s LCC is a creation of the CRD under provincial legislation, our LCC was the result of a local process seeking governance solutions, beginning after the most recent defeat of incorporation in 2017. It began with the Salt Spring Community Alliance’s Governance Working Group that met every week for a year (October 2017-September 2018) seeking governance solutions.Their report (https://www.saltspringcommunityalliance.org/_files/ugd/b6496e_01a851776fcf46e09e48886a51e4f0ab.pdf) offered a variety of recommendations, most notably an LCC for Salt Spring.


Promised by Electoral Director Gary Holman during his 2018 campaign, early in 2022 that he convened an Advisory Group to further explore an LCC for Salt Spring. Comprised of chairs (or designees) of the four CRD Advisory Commissions; our two Improvement Districts, Fire and North Salt Spring WaterWorks; and two at large members of the community, this group met throughout the spring 2022. Once it had been determined that an LCC should be further explored, CRD staff began working with this group to craft the bylaw that was subsequently approved by the CRD Board July 13, 2022 and by referendum that fall.      


The four elected Local Commissioners were sworn in June 2023, making decisions about the services over which it has authority - as well as advocacy issues - in regularly-scheduled open meetings that welcome all. In 2024, these meetings will be held the second Thursday of every month from 5:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m. and the third Thursday of every month, beginning at 9:00 a. m. All LCC meetings are scheduled to be held in SIMS (the former Middle School) Boardroom.


The next question brought a flurry of responses from participants, some deeply emotional: Is there going to be a court case against a family for its crowing roosters? This participant did not understand how this could happen in our rural community - especially when there are so many more important issues to address.


Some who were deeply involved in this issue participated in this ASK Salt Spring gathering, including rooster-owners, representatives of the 628-member Poultry Club (http://saltspringpoultry.com/)and several members of the Agricultural Alliance (https://www.ssiagalliance.org/). While Local Commissioners could not discuss this issue due to pending litigation, we all listened and learned that those defending rooster-ownership feel that owners had worked respectfully with neighbours as well as CRD Bylaw Enforcement officers. We heard that they had spent thousands of dollars trying to mitigate their rooster noise, including moving their coop, building a new one, and even sacrificing their original roosters for several smaller, quieter ones.


We also learned that farms in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) (https://www.alc.gov.bc.ca/) are protected by the Right to Farm Act (https://www.bclaws.gov.bc.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/96131_01) but that about half of the Salt Spring farms are not on ALR land. It was noted that other CRD communities have bylaws protecting farming activities in locations where farms are permitted.


While participants at this ASK Salt Spring gathering were warned that a court case could have widespread implications for our future as a rural community, we were also reminded by some participants of the negative impacts of daily early morning rooster crowing. We recognized that only one side of the issue have been voiced here and that all perspectives need to be fully-understood.


Overall, the sentiment of these participants seemed to echo the concern of last week’s ASK Salt Spring (https://www.saltspringcommunityalliance.org/post/welcoming-mla-adam-olsen-to-discuss-that-classic-battle-between-centralised-and-local-decisions): The resolution of conflicts should be made locally rather than decided in Victoria with its more urban perspective.


As we prepared to move to other topics, a participant asked the group whether CRD was serving us well, questioning whether an island-based regional district may be a better option. Gary responded that a change of this magnitude would take years to accomplish. The issue of Salt Spring’s noise bylaw should be addressed as soon as the court case has been resolved rather than becoming mired down by the controversial option of untangling our multiple service relationships with CRD.


During his opening remarks, Gary had referred to some good housing news and, shifting gears, a participant asked for more detail about this good news. A major piece of good news concerns the likelihood of approval of the Southern Gulf Islands Tourism Partnership, SGITP, (https://southerngulfislands.com/about-us/) for five more years.


This society expends the 2% MRDT (https://www.destinationbc.ca/what-we-do/funding-sources/mrdt/) currently charged by all accommodations providers, for regional initiatives. To date, the majority of its work has been focused upon regional marketing during the off season. The proposal for its next five years is to use the revenues from online providers to support worker housing projects on Salt Spring and the Southern Gulf Islands. Potentially many thousands of dollars every year, this could, indeed, be very good news.


Also, the CRD Board will soon review a proposal from the Southern Gulf Islands for the establishment of a CRD Rural Housing Program to support our rural affordable housing projects.


We also learned that Salt Spring has just been included in the provincial opportunity for forgivable loans of up to $40,000 for accessory suites, the Secondary Suite Incentive Program: https://www.bchousing.org/housing-assistance/secondary-suite.    


As 1:00 was fast approaching, a final question asked about Community Works (also called gas tax) Funds, CWF, (https://www.ubcm.ca/funding-programs/canada-community-building-fund/community-works-fund0. Generated from a federal gas tax, each BC community gets an annual allocation based upon population. An extremely-important source of funds, especially for infrastructure needs,Salt Spring receives approximately $600,000 every year.


While allocation of these funds rests solely with Gary as our Electoral Director, services under the authority of the LCC benefit significantly, especially PARC, Transportation, and Liquid Waste. Additionally, this CWF has supported Croftonbrook’s (https://iwav.org/affordable-rental-housing/) expensive grey water and well systems, the just-opened Root (https://www.ssifarmlandtrust.org/projects), Salt Spring’s first large scale composting facility at the Burgoyne Community Farm, and $1 million to reduce voter debt for our new firehall, also resulting in our community’s future acquisition of the Ganges Firehall for $1.


With a hearty Thank-You to Grant for his masterful facilitation and to Julie for stepping in to take wonderful notes, we bid farewell to our hardworking, enthusiastic, and creative Local Commissioners. (Thanks Ben, Brian, Gary, Earl, and Gayle!)


Interested in learning how local initiatives get funded? Come this Friday, February 16, 11-1, in the SIMS (former Middle School) classroom to learn how great ideas can get the money they need: Funding a healthy and resilient Salt Spring.


Please join our team of experts Shannon Cowan, Salt Spring Island Foundation; Nora Layard, Transition Salt Spring Economic Co-Op (TSSEC); Robert Steinbach, Country Grocer Community Outreach; and Julie Kemble, Chair of Arts Council.


Committed to supporting local initiatives, these experts welcome your questions and your creative ideas to make Salt Spring even better.


Please join us this Friday to welcome Shannon, Nora, Robert and Julie!


Did you know that ASK Salt Spring now has an Event Organizer? Grant Fredrickson has stepped up to identify special guests and coordinate their visits. . . Wahoo!


Who else would like to help? Maybe you would like to take charge of weekly media? Do you see yourself facilitating? How about writing reports? Or. . . ?


Please join us making ASK Salt Spring ever better!


Big News:

ASK Salt Spring now has ongoing funding! A heartfelt THANK-YOU to the Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA) and its Executive Director, Peter Allen !!!


***New fundraising option***

You can now give the Return It change you earn from your bottles to ASK Salt Spring: Account #230.


Any questions, anytime: ask@asksaltspring.com


Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings,

monthly schedule of upcoming gatherings? Asksaltspring.com.

Want to listen to interviews of our special guests?ASK Salt Spring Answered


Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.

We love your receipts! Remember: #15


Our Partners. . . .

Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA), Country Grocer through Save-a-Tape and Gift Cards and Island Savings' Simple Generosity grant.

A heartfelt Thank-You!

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