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North Okanagan amalgamation?

The District of Coldstream, along with Areas B and C, stopped any possible amalgamation of the Greater Vernon Area at Monday night's council meeting. 

The smaller outlying communities around the City of Vernon all voted against a request by the Greater Vernon Governance Society to have a study done by the provincial government on the idea.

“I just don’t think that council bought into the argument that oh we are going to get bigger, we are going to save money and things are going to get better,” shared Coldstream Mayor Jim Garlick. “We didn’t see what we would take to our electorate to get support for the idea.”

The Greater Vernon Governance Society recently obtained 3,160 names on a petition, including 816 in Coldstream, asking local and provincial governments to look into developing a plan to combine the Greater Vernon Area regional governments into a single entity.

However, Coldstream and Areas B and C voted unanimously not to endorse the process.

Mayor Garlick says there was just no clear reason why an amalgamation would be a good thing for Coldstream.

“When questions were asked to the presenters at the meeting, there were no real good answers provided as to why they would want to proceed in this direction,” says Garlick.

Plus, he adds, their main argument of cheaper taxes held no ground.

“So a lot of that argument is really losing traction, oh you make it bigger and it becomes cheaper, but if you actually check tax rates across the province a lot of the smaller communities (like Coldstream) don't do badly,” says Garlick.

Coldstream's mayor also notes that the district has already taken steps to work with the City of Vernon and increase the efficiency of services in certain areas.

“In our area, we actually have partnered up already, we partnered up with the City of Vernon on things like recreation and arts and culture, so we have amalgamated in a lot of ways already,” notes Garlick.

“Another way is through the water district (which is one body), when you look at a larger centre like Kelowna you have probably five different water utilities in the area so we feel we have already taken care of a lot of these issues...and by doing what we are doing right now we maintain our autonomy over our land use.”

Garlick also questions the efficiency argument, claiming other larger amalgamation projects like the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) in the 1990's had increased costs and decreased efficiency.

“They (the GTA) now sit at about 21 employees per 1,000 population, in Coldstream we sit at 6 employees per 1,000 population and the average across the country is about 14 employees per 1,000 population.”

Councillors, the mayor and opponents of the study in Coldstream believe the amalgamation would decrease their power in decision making, increase property taxes, and take up financial resources and staff time to participate.

The only government body left to make their decision is the City of Vernon. It plans to vote on the matter at their next council meeting Jan. 27; as of now the project has no ground to stand on.

Garlick says Coldstream residents need not fear, a Greater Vernon Area unification is not happening now or anytime in the near future.

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