Castanet News has distributed a questionnaire to each candidate running for local director in the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen.
All candidates in a given area have been given the same questions, and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity when needed. An interactive database of Okanagan candidates, including previous questionnaire stories, is available here.
Election day is Oct. 15.
Ron Obirek: Incumbent candidate for Area D - Okanagan Falls
Why would you make an effective Area D director?
I have four years experience as director which includes a long list of successes, such as gaining board support to keep the trestle bridge open, keeping the Community Economic Development office open, repairing tennis courts, upgrading pickle ball capacity, gaining board support to update short term vacation rental and cannabis retail bylaws, gaining board and provincial support for Phase 1 governance review towards incorporation and recommended and assisted the establishment of the Okanagan Falls Community Association. Check out my website to learn more.
My 36 years as a lawyer assist me in listening to community members and determining the core issues that need to be addressed. Prior to being elected, I served on the Area D Advisory Planning Commission and the Parks and Recreation Commission. I facilitated the donation of land and raising of grant monies to build the park in Heritage Hills, in compliance with Parkland dedication legislation.
In your view, what is the number one issue facing Area D today and how would I deal with it knowing the regional district only has so much power?
A tough question due to the number of important issues. I think the #1 issue across Area D is water. Conversion to Regional District Authority would be a significant improvement because of the resultant qualification for grants, superior financing options, and excellent Regional District Public Works and finance department support.
Even though Okanagan Falls has successfully undergone a water utility conversion, serious issues remain. And, unresolved concerns exist in Vaseux Lake Irrigation District, Upper Carmi (specifically the lower 29 lots), Skaha Estates Irrigation District, and Sun Valley Irrigation District. We also need to address water issues pertaining to agriculture; and environmental impacts to our lakes, rivers and streams.
The Regional District Board currently has 19 voting members. How would you ensure Area D concerns are addressed when it comes to regional issues?
My successes demonstrate a high efficiency in having Area D concerns addressed at the board. The key has been listening to community concerns and then sharing those issues at the board table. Board members have and will support motions made based on information provided.
Due to the population census, the next board will have 20 voting members. Building and maintaining good relationships at the board table is key. Having good communication and respect with staff and the community also enable a better understanding around key issues.
An incorporation study has been requested for a boundary including Okanagan Falls and a few adjacent areas within Area D. In your opinion should this portion of Area D be incorporated?
- Accountability - the community votes for the four councillors and mayor.
- Regional representation - the mayor would represent Area D on the Regional District board dealing with regional issues.
- Authority - the Local Government Act provides greater authority to fix things such as parking bylaws, policing, sub-divisions, ... the list goes on.
- Act quicker - Municipalities can get things done faster, quicker, cheaper and better. (e.g. three months vs. three years to amend a bylaw)
- Grants - Municipalities qualify for more grants. e.g. since incorporation in 2007, Clearwater has received over $27 million in grants that Area "D" didn't even qualify to apply for (approximately $700 for every single man, woman and child every year for 15 years more than we received)
- Taxes - Recent history of electoral areas that have incorporated demonstrate taxes do not change significantly from before incorporation. In fact, municipalities receive more value for their tax dollars
If you had $1 million to spend on anything for Area D, how would you spend it?
Going back to the main issue... WATER. I would support the $1 million to be spent immediately addressing Okanagan Falls Irrigation District water utility necessary repair, maintenance and replacement issues. $1 million would save the ratepayers on that utility approximately $1,000 each.
In March, 2021 an engineer's report identified approximately $6.5 million of urgent need with only approximately $1 million in reserve. I have successfully led a UBCM Excellence in Governance award winning utility acquisition process and brought to attention of staff and community a grant opportunity for $2 million, which was submitted. A response is expected by December 2022.
Picture Area D 20 years from now. What are the key aspects that are making it thrive?
I believe Area D is one of the most beautiful places in the world that will remain a jewel of the Okanagan in the coming years.
Key aspects include enthusiastic community members participating within a municipal district that provides quicker more responsive governance. The municipal district will have better access to our tax dollars that return to us by way of grants that only go to municipalities. These aspects will contribute to a more sustainable local economy with good housing and successful businesses. Improved Internet technologies with better connectivity will enable us to better engage the world in our business endeavours and personal and healthcare relations.