The RDEK voted to tweak a planning document for the Elk Valley to allow for directing new commercial development north of Hosmer after a dispute blew up between municipal directors and area directors.
Mike Sosnowski, the director for Area A — which runs south from Elkford, Sparwood and Fernie to the US and Alberta borders — took issue with a decision made by Elkford and Sparwood city councils to pull funding for the RDEK planning department.
The RDEK planning department manages the land and develops policy for land that is not within municipal government boundaries. Under the Elk Valley Official Community Plan (OCP), Electoral Area A is encouraged to direct commercial development to local municipalities.
Sosnowski says that should no longer be the case.
“I think that they’re pulling out of planning is very short-sighted for the long term,” Sosnowski told reporters after the meeting.
“Elkford and Sparwood, when they were in planning, there was a respect that all commercial activity be directed towards their municipalities,” Sosnowski continued. “With them pulling out of planning, that gives the opportunity to encourage commercial development outside of the municipalities.”
As a result of pulling funding for the RDEK planning department, Elkford and Sparwood will no longer have a vote on planning issues within RDEK jurisdiction.
During the discussion on the issue, Dean McKerracher, the mayor for Elkford and Cal McDougall, the mayor from Sparwood, cited fiscal taxpayer prudence and whether it made sense to contribute to a regional planning service when they already have a municipal planning departments.
“I don’t know why I have to sit here and defend this, but $30,000 of taxation can go to good use in my community and Sparwood is the same,” said McKerracher. “So we were paying for a planning function that we’re not using. If you look at all the projects on planning and have for the last 13 years I’ve been sitting here, there’s not one project.”
McDougall said his community never wished to pull funding entirely, only to look at the funding formula.
“Most regional districts, municipalities don’t participate to the extent that the municipalities participate in the RDEK and maybe that’s why we’ve been so cohesive over the years, is that I think the municipalities have participated more than they need to,” McDougall said. “The intent was not for Sparwood to withdraw entirely from the planning [but] just to readdress the funding portion of it.
“We were paying 39 per cent and I don’t think that’s fair. The planning function for the regional district is for the rural areas. They should be paying. I’m sorry, that’s the way it works. User pay.”
A clash of philosophy
The issue opened a sore point of contention in governing and funding philosophy between electoral area directors and municipal directors.
The RDEK is funded through taxation from electoral areas and contributions from member municipalities.
If municipalities pull out, the RDEK planning department— as a governing body for rural area land use policy — faces a financial shortfall, warns Sosnowski.
That could negatively impact electoral areas, he continued.
“If Cranbrook and Kimberley pulled out of the planning function, and we want to keep our planning function, taxes on electoral areas are going up significantly,” Sosnowski said.
Right now, if all member municipalities pulled out of the agreement, the projected costs would rise by $5 per residence assessed at $300,000 for all property owners who live in electoral areas within the RDEK.
Currently, the RDEK has invited member communities into a five-year cost-sharing agreement that need to be approved by municipal councils.
Sparwood and Elkford are costed at $24,712 and $17,060, respectively. Other communities are invited to contribute as well such as Cranbrook ($69,499), Kimberley ($22,341) and Invermere ($21,456), along with a few others.
In 2017, the financial impact was higher, as Sparwood and Elkford contributed $39,401 and $27,201 respectively. Cranbrook contributed $110,809, while Kimberley pitched in $35,621 and Invermere provided $34,210.
In comparison, Electoral Areas contributed upwards of $172,138 (Area F), $99,428 (Area C) and $75,866 (Area A).
A new fixed price cost sharing formula of 80 per cent from electoral areas and 20 per cent from municipalities was recently presented to the board. In contrast, the old formula consisted of 61 per cent from electoral areas and 39 per cent from municipalities.
The dispute highlights the rift over funding priorities for directors who represent either municipalities or electoral areas.
More than just a financial dispute, it’s a also a clash over long-term planning.
Right now, the Elk Valley Official Community Plan (OCP) encourages commercial development in the municipalities in the region, but now, Sosnowski says the RDEK should explore an amendment to that policy, which would help generate tax revenue for electoral areas to pay for planning services.
“So if they want to stay in or if they want to stay out — as a consequence of pulling out of planning and reducing our planning department, the consequence could be, because I can’t speak for Rob or anybody else, is encouraging commercial development. That money may support our planning department,” said Sosnowski, during the discussion.
Reaction was mixed from municipal directors.
Invermere Mayor Gerry Taft agreed with Sosnowski, noting that when making decisions that impact the region, such as creating the Jumbo municipality, there is value in having as many regional voices at the table as possible.
“It may sound spiteful; it is spiteful, but I agree that there should be consequences,” Taft said. “When the home-based businesses and some of the major business proponents of the Elk Valley OCP were considered at one point, Elkford and Sparwood were the most vocal against that; they were very involved in lobbying against these changes and any kind of threat to commercial activity not being within municipal boundaries.”
However, other directors, including rural ones, said municipalities have every right to opt in or out of RDEK planning contributions.
“If they want out, they’re out,” said Area B director Stan Doehle. “Our first concern is the taxpayer; we’re responsible to the taxpayer but if Elkford and Sparwood wants out, if Cranbrook wants out, if Invermere, wherever, we have no choice. That’s a municipal act that we’ve got to govern ourselves by.
“You can’t use that tax argument out there. Sure, it’s going to cost all us rural directors money, but there’s no way that we should have that dissension on this board to self-destruct it.”
Kimberley mayor Don McCormick agreed, noting that there is already a penalty in place if municipalities don’t contribute to the planning department.
“The consequence that is in place right now is you don’t participate in planning,” McCormick said. “Adding additional consequence over and above that is absolutely spiteful and it shows disrespect towards the decisions that we’re making as a municipality, or that Sparwood and Elkford have made as municipalities, that’s in the best interests of their taxpayers.”
This story has been edited to correct some incorrect information. The new funding formula is a fixed price offer based on an 80 per cent cost share from electoral areas and 20 per cent cost share from municipalities. The previous formula was 61 per cent from electoral areas and 39 per cent from municipalities, not the other way around, which had been reported.