Nonresidents upset over non-vote for Windermere water

Nonresidents upset over non-vote for Windermere water

The Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) is hosting a series of meetings regarding Windermere water project.

The RDEK is working to educate citizens on the referendum process prior to the October vote, which will determine if the RDEK purchases the existing Parr Utilities’ water treatment plant and water distribution system.

The first meeting took place on the afternoon of Wednesday, August 23rd and drew a crowd of about 45 resident and nonresident home owners.

As reported previously, the RDEK opted to achieve elector assent via a referendum, not a petition. A referendum vote means those entitled to vote must be a resident of B.C. They must be a resident of or a registered owner of land in the service area, which means renters can vote. For a referendum to be successful, the majority who participate must vote in favour– 50 per cent plus one person.

The alternative method for gaining approval to buy Parr Utilities was by petition. In a petition, all owners of land, including corporations and those from out of province – but not including tenants – within the service area are entitled to sign. However, in a petition, it must be signed by owners of at least half the parcels of land that would be charged for the service. If a petition is not returned, it is counted as a vote of opposition.

Wendy Booth, Area F director, spoke to the referendum decision, saying given voter apathy, it was “unrealistic” to think enough property owners would respond to a petition to achieve a ‘yes’ vote.

“It’s the best decision for this vote to be successful,” Ms. Booth commented. “Petitions are really hard to pass.”

One or two attendees ‘booed’ when Ms. Booth explained nonresident, out of province homeowners could not vote. Some raised the point that perhaps the 60 per cent of nonresident homeowners would tip the balance to the ‘yes’ side instead of the RDEK’s opinion that it would cause the vote to fail.

“You’re trying to ram it down our throats,” commented one nonresident.

Attendees asked about details of the referendum vote, who gets to vote and why the referendum option was chosen. One person questioned what will happen if the referendum does not pass. Ms. Booth said the RDEK board would need to discuss next steps and she could not speak to Interior Health’s next steps should the referendum not pass.

Marilyn Thompson, a secondary home owner, suggested it would be helpful to have detailed information on the quality of the water so voters can make an informed decision.

Holly Ronnquist, chief financial officer, broke down the projected costs for homeowners. It is complicated given there are two separate service areas affected; the Windermere community water system service area and the East Side, referring to the proposed East Side Lake Windermere Water System Service Area which includes most of Windermere, Timber Ridge and current Parr customers.

When all the numbers are put in, and without a possible grant the RDEK has applied for, the RDEK needs to borrow $6.94 million for the project plus a 1 per cent debt reserve fund deposit, bringing the total to just over $7 million. That amount will need to be recovered through taxation, up to a maximum of $510,000 per year over 25 years.

Windermere property owners can estimate the taxation impact by adding their current frontage tax and the estimated maximum annual $550 parcel tax.

Only Windermere will be paying the new tax because the current customers of Parr have already made capital payments into the system through fees paid to Parr, and they will not be receiving any additional service through the project.

The East Side users will continue to pay their monthly user fees, charged and collected through the new East Side service area. The estimated average monthly residential user fee on the East Side is $60 per month.

“We understand this increase is a very big number. Staff will work hard to try and bring that number down,” assured Ms. Ronnquist.

About 15 people turned out for the evening open house on the evening of August 23rd. For those who missed either opportunity, the RDEK will be hosting two more open houses on Wednesday, October 4th from 3-5 p.m. or 7-9 p.m., with presentations at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

The Windermere water upgrade stems from a water quality advisory that has been in place for the community since 2006 when the Province changed the water quality standards. Since then, the RDEK has tried numerous times to come up with a solution agreeable to Windermere residents without success. After years of consultation, the RDEK is now prepared to put the question on the table through a referendum process.

The motion to buy Parr Utilities, which provides provincial-standard tested water to several communities in the Windermere area, came about after public consultation and an independent assessment of all options, including construction of a new treatment plant; purchase of bulk treated water from Parr Utilities, which was previously rejected by the community in a 2011 referendum, or to buy Parr Utilities. The latter option has come out on top, and is now expanded to include the purchase of the building.

Referendum day will be October 28th, with two advance ballot days October 18th and 26th. RDEK staff urged anyone with further questions to contact the RDEK at 250-489-2791 or visit www.rdek.bc.ca.

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