A five year old petition asking for the Osoyoos East Bench to be annexed into the Town of Osoyoos’ boundaries, one of the many issues that had to be shelved by council during the one-two punch of flooding and the COVID-19 pandemic, received new life at the May 23 council meeting.
When the petition was received in 2018, 80 per cent of residents in the East Bench area were in favor of annexation if it included use of the town’s sewer services. Council revisited the issue in 2021 and advised that a restructure study grant be requested from the Minister of Municipal Affairs, but pandemic-related matters brought any further progress to a halt.
Director of planning and development Gina Mackay brought it back to council’s attention at the recent meeting because the provincial government has advised town administration to develop a long-term restructuring plan that can encompass all future boundary changes.
“There are a number of types of local government restructure grants available,” said Mackay. The challenge is, as a small municipality . . . we would have to first decide on the bigger picture area that we were going to consider for expansion. They only want us to do that once, to decide on that particular area, even if it’s a twenty or thirty-year decision down the road.”
The province hopes that this policy will dissuade what Mackay referred to as “one-off expansion requests” that only deal with a handful of properties at a time, which means that “the key to obtaining grant funding is to be able to identify the long term vision or expansion area.”
The town’s recommended solution for this challenge is to add a municipal restructuring feasibility project to the current list of strategic priorities, which will enable staff to identify the most likely candidates for annexation in the future and allow them to develop a clearly-stated rationale for the changes.
Mackay pointed out that along with the East Bench area, there are other areas around Osoyoos where municipal services are already being provided to properties that lie outside of the current town boundaries – bringing as many of them as possible into the town proper could be one such rationale.
While the town does currently have a handful of restructure requests in the works, Mackay was frank about the fact that, because of other highly pressing issues currently being faced by the town and the amount of staff time it would demand, the new project would likely land near the bottom of their priority list.
However, since the town cannot receive any grant money to study the potential positive and negative impacts of any restructure requests until they present their bigger picture plan, Mackay stressed that making it a priority is still important.
Council agreed to consider the project and will make their final vote at a future meeting.