By Tom Read
BC's Local Government Act, the Regional District Tool Kit (available at the Texada Library) and "A Guide to Regional District Board Delegation to Committees and Commissions" are some of the information sources about Local Community Commissions in BC.
Last night at the Texada Island Chamber of Commerce dinner meeting we heard a presentation on the possibility of a Local Community Commission (LCC) for Texada. The speakers were Dave Murphy, now in his fourth term representing our island on the Powell River Regional District (PRRD) Board of Directors, and Frances Ladret, the District Administrator. More in a moment on what they had to say, how some people reacted to it, and what might happen next. Warning: this is a longer-than-usual post; please bear with me.
First, it’s important to note that the Chamber is a private, non-profit organization that serves mainly as an informal forum for Texadans to discuss “what’s happening” on the island. Indeed, at last night’s meeting we also heard local farmer Dave Opko give a very informative talk about recent changes to Provincial livestock farm-gate sales regulations. Those changes favour places like our island, but that’s another story.
The Chamber sometimes sponsors public meetings open to all, such as a candidates forum at election time. But its regular meetings are held at the Texada Legion and are limited to members and guests only, by advance reservation. Seating space is limited to about 50 people for such dinner meetings. In the interest of full disclosure, I must add that I’ve been a director of the Chamber since 2002, and the just-elected president of the Chamber happens to be Linda Bruhn, my wife. Last night’s meeting was her first in that role.
Back to the LCC presentation. The idea of a Local Community Commission for Texada piqued quite a lot of interest, especially from those already involved in local government activities of one sort or another. We had a full house, including several trustees from Texada’s two Improvement Districts, along with past and present members of various committees, commissions and community organizations. Many people in the room wear multiple hats, serving on various community groups and as businesspeople.
Dave Murphy introduced the topic by saying that he wasn’t necessarily for or against an LCC, but he wanted us to be aware of the possibility of such an entity, and he wanted to get an informal idea from our group whether we would be interested in learning more about it through a public consultation process. Then Frances took to the podium and gave a succinct explanation of the LCC concept, how others have used it, and why Texada might want to consider adopting it. I don’t have the space to go through the whole presentation here, but I do want to cover a few highlights, below.
So what is an LCC, and why would Texada be a possible candidate for one? Under section 838 of the BC Local Government Act, Regional District Boards can delegate some of their authority for operating services to an LCC whose members are elected from within a remote electoral area, such as Texada Island. Although it can administer day-to-day operation of local services and can advise the Board on budgets and policies for those services, an LCC can’t pass bylaws or enter into contracts. But, as Frances mentioned, the Board would normally approve the LCC’s budget and policy recommendations, provided there was no additional cost or liability incurred by residents of other electoral areas or by the Board itself.
Local Community Commissions were designed for geographically well-defined remote areas with several local services. Texada happens to support several island-only services administered by Regional District staff who live in Powell River. There’s an economic cost to having our local government administered by people who don’t live on the island. Because of travel time, an administrator may spend five or six hours on a Texada task that would have taken less than half that time on the mainland. And Texadans who want to provide input on policy or meet with administrators have to travel to Powell River to have a meaningful voice in local government.
Frances mentioned that Texada has more services than any other electoral area in the PRRD, but there’s no coordinating body on the island to see that our services are delivered efficiently. Instead, each one acts independently of the others. Take building management, for example: our Recreation Commission maintains certain buildings, our Airport Committee looks after other buildings at the airport, and the Health Services Society advises the PRRD on the building that houses our Health Centre. There’s no island-wide venue for setting priorities or taking advantage of joint operating efficiencies.
About 80% of Texada’s residents also receive services from our island’s two Improvement Districts, one in Van Anda and the other in Gillies Bay. These existing layers of bureaucracy — PRRD and Improvement Districts — don’t coordinate much, either. According to Frances, there might be greater operating efficiency and ability to obtain grant funds by changing the Improvement Districts into Service Areas administered on Texada through an elected LCC. That might eliminate a layer of bureaucracy while still keeping local control of those services in each of the two villages.
There’s a lot more to the story, but the above highlights are enough to indicate that an LCC would represent a significant change for Texada. Not surprisingly, this prospect alarmed a number of audience members. Objections included the following:
– Since it couldn’t pass bylaws or enter into contracts, an LCC would be powerless, so why do it?
– An LCC would be just another layer of bureaucracy with additional costs, which we don’t need.
– The only reason to even look at this would be to get funding for fixing our water systems, and there’s no guarantee of that.
– Everything is fine with our Regional District services today, so why bother?
There are also compelling arguments supporting the LCC option. Now that the topic has surfaced, I hope Texadans will do some research and learning on their own, not just relying on information brought to them by PRRD. Frances provided a background handout, and a little more delving on the Internet readily yields much more detail about possibilities and options for local influence on a regional district.
The next step, I believe, is for Director Murphy to call a public meeting to present the LCC concept to a wider audience. That meeting could address the objections that surfaced at the Chamber last night, and could also help us decide, as a community, whether to further pursue the LCC concept. We owe ourselves a more thorough and well-informed discussion about this possibility — or even other options.