Central Okanagan  

Big White municipality?

Is Big White ready to become its own municipality?

Several business, land and home owners think so.

Formal discussions have been taking place at the ski hill which could eventually lead to the formation of the Resort Municipality of Big White.

While the idea has been talked about for nearly a decade it has been getting more and more traction lately with the assistance of the Big White Chamber of Commerce.

About 40 people attended a chamber sponsored information meeting last month.

Big White Chamber of Commerce secretary, Jude Brunt called that meeting positive.

"We've had one private meeting with a consultant coming in who gave us an unbiased community view on what municipality status would mean - what resort municipality means," says Brunt.

A second meeting in August will determine if there is enough support to go ahead with a feasibility study.

Brunt says if the appetite is there they will move forward with a phase 1 feasibility study which would break down the numbers to determine what kind of taxation would be required to provide the necessary services.

She says breaking out on their own would mean more autonomy in decision making at Big White.

"Tax dollars would stay within Big White. There would be more opportunities for federal grants to develop the community," says Brunt. "Local people making local decisions."

The down side - maintenance and upkeep of Big White Road.

Those cost alone could be a deal breaker.

"Possibly if that's what the phase 1 study shows. That's basically why we want to go to the first stage...to determine if the numbers would work or wouldn't work."

Ski resort Senior Vice-President, Michael J. Ballingall is supportive of the study.

"The lift company is very supportive of the community getting together and understanding what it is going to take to become a resort municipality," says Ballingall.

"I think the thing that we have to remember first and foremost, there is only so much taxation dollars to go around the community and right now we rely on the regional district or the province to help us make sure the community is run properly."

He agreed with Brunt that the elephant in the room is the road.

"That road is over 50 years old. It's been maintained by the provincial government very well. Some of it is being resurfaced this summer," says Ballingall.

"But, it's in an alpine environment. It freezes and thaws more than any other road in BC. It's higher than any other tourism road in the province and it has a lot of users that go up and down it on a daily basis. It's the one thing that you can't short change."

Ballingall estimates the contract with Argo Road Maintenance is well over $1M a year for maintaining the 11km roadway.

Still, Ballingall believes there is a large enough tax base to support a resort municipality.

"A hundred per cent. We know from the tax dollars alone that we would have double the tax income that Sun Peaks has. They seem to be doing it very, very well."

Sun Peaks outside of Kamloops was incorporated in 2010.

On the positive side, Ballingall says new funding streams would become available for projects on the hill.

"We sit at Big White Ski Resort very, very jealous of the communities that are resort municipalities and some of the funding grants they get from the provincial government," says Ballingall.

"And, in some cases, a resort like Sun Peaks is receiving funding for things to improve their resort that Big White doesn't get. We think that's terribly unfair."

Ballingall says becoming a resort municipality will not only help level the playing field but will also allow the municipality to control the tax dollars it is generating.

Currently there are 14 resort municipalities in the province including Sun Peaks, Whistler and the City of Osoyoos.

The Big White chamber has been in communication with the provincial Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development throughout the initial stages.

Brunt says the province has been extremely supportive and helpful.

She adds there is no time frame to make this happen.

If it does happen it could take four or five years, says Brunt.


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