Canal Flats mayor Ute Juras celebrates the $800

Canal Flats mayor Ute Juras celebrates the $800

Columbia Valley recreation service areas set to merge

The Columbia Valley is inching towards the establishment of one recreation service area.

The Columbia Valley is inching towards the establishment of one recreation service area, a move that will lower property taxes for residents of Canal Flats and a portion of Area F. While the Columbia Valley Recreation Service Amendment Bylaw has not yet received first reading, the method of voting on it was decided at the Columbia Valley Directors Committee meeting held at the Regional District Office in Cranbrook on June 7.

The motion to maintain status quo in the voting was carried with committee vice chair and Village of Canal Flats mayor Ute Juras opposed. As it stands, Invermere and Electoral Area F will receive two votes each while remaining Electoral Areas C and G, and villages of Radium Hot Springs and Canal Flats will receive one.

“The Canal Flats council wanted one vote, one director,” Juras told The Valley Echo.

The Columbia Valley currently has two service areas that deal with recreation — the Columbia Valley Recreation Service Area (CVRSA) extends north from Fairmont and includes Invermere, Radium and part of Area G, while the Canal Flats Recreation Service Area (CFRSA) is located south of Fairmont and includes the southern portion of Area F and the village of Canal Flats. The two areas have defined tax rates in order to fund the Eddie Mountain Memorial and Canal Flats Arenas respectively, but because the Canal Flats service area is so much smaller, residents there pay a much higher rate — 60 cents per $1,000 of home or property assessment compared to about 11 cents per $1,000 for those who live in the Columbia Valley service area, said Columbia Valley director and District of Invermere mayor Gerry Taft. The discrepancy was raised as an issue when Area F residents in the Canal Flats recreational service area discovered they were paying higher service area taxes than some of their neighbours.

“On one side of the street they were paying the 60 cents per thousand towards the Canal Flats arena, and on the other side of the street they were paying the 11 cents per thousand towards the Invermere arena,” Taft said. “So right where that line is between the two service areas, there were people that were upset when they were on the wrong side of the line.”

When the original concept of the Columbia Valley Recreation Service Amendment Bylaw was introduced to create one recreational service area with one tax rate, these residents were not going to see a tax decrease for about ten years because of the million dollars worth of upgrades needed on the Canal Flats arena and resulting debt that would have to be paid off.

But the $800,000 Community Recreation Program grant given to the Canal Flats arena back in March by the provincial government means the borrowing amount to complete the upgrades will be much less, so residents will see the decrease a lot sooner, said Taft.

He thinks the amendment bylaw that will amalgamate the two recreation service areas could still technically pass with Canal Flats voting against it but said the committee won’t force the issue.

“If Canal Flats doesn’t want this arrangement, then we’re not going to go forward with it,” he said.

Juras said she represented her council in her vote opposing the voting method, and while a couple of Canal Flats councillors were not pleased with the outcome of the June 7 meeting, she doesn’t foresee the bylaw not going forward, “unless something drastically changes in our discussion once we get the bylaw back,” Juras said.

“It’s going to be a very noticeable drop,” she said. “It will benefit us for sure.”

Village of Canal Flats chief administrative and financial officer Brian Woodward agrees.

“Amalgamation of the areas would result in a reduction of a tax levy from .6 to .13 for the defined portion of area F and the Village of Canal Flats,”  Woodward said in an email. “This reduction would result in an approximate savings to the Village of Canal Flats of $60,000 per annum.”

This is very significant as it represents a reduction of approximately 10 per cent to their current tax levies, he noted.

“There’s always the worry that we would give up some of the power we now have, although it’s not that great anyway because it’s just a one-to-one vote,” Juras said. “I think it feels more than anything a little bit like we’re giving something up but I think in the long run it will be a gain.”