Valley may have new economic development service area next year

The Upper Columbia Valley may have a new service area — and correspondingly a new tax — designed to facilitate economic development.

The Upper Columbia Valley may next year have a new service area — and correspondingly a new tax — designed to facilitate economic development.

The Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) has already proposed a bylaw to create such as service area, and Invermere council voted unanimously at its June 23rd meeting to support it.

“Potentially its a way of getting some things in the valley more equitably funded,” said Invermere mayor Gerry Taft, adding that the service area could be used to help fund the valley’s Visitor Information Centres, the new proposed resident attraction and retention plan, valley-wide marketing efforts, and even some of the groups and items for the district for which Invermere already pays a fee for service, such as the Lake Windermere Ambassadors or the Whiteway.

Invermere council members have multiple times in the past pointed out that there are several such services or groups in the valley for which the bulk (or in some cases all) of the funding comes from Invermere, but which provide benefit to the other municipalities and rural areas in the valley.

Councillor Greg Anderson voiced some concern about how much taxes might increase as a result of the new service area, saying, “If it’s going to be an excessive increase I think we should have a discussion about it. If it’s a $300 (per home per year) increase we need to talk about it, but a three dollar (per home per year) increase we don’t need to talk about.”

Taft responded that any tax money flowing from Invermere taxpayers through the new service area for existing groups will be offset by a deduction in how much the district gives that group as a fee for service.

“So if, for instance, $30,000 a year was requisitioned from Invermere taxpayers for the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce through the new service area, then the district would correspondingly lower its direct fee for service that it gives to the chamber by $30,000,” said Taft, adding that the net effect would be Invermere taxpayers would pay the exact same amount, and that money would simply appear under a different heading on their tax bill.

The Chamber, however, would benefit from the new service area since it would not only be getting the $30,000 requisitioned from Invermere taxpayers, but also tax money requisitioned from Radium Hot Springs, Canal Flats, RDEK Area F and Area G taxpayers.

Taft did add that, however, that any new service or groups to get funding through the service area in the future would result in an increase in taxes for Invermere residents, but said that on a per home per year basis, it wouldn’t amount to much.

“To get into the hundreds of dollars a year (in a per home tax increase) you’d have to be adding a service such as swimming pool or a multi-ice rink arena,” he said.

The Upper Columbia Valley RDEK directors have proposed a weighted voting system for the new service area that would see all municipalities or rural areas with more than 2,500 people (Invermere and Area F) get two votes, while those with less than 2,500 people (Radium Hot Springs, Canal Flats and Area G) get one vote.

An economic development services area is one of a handful of services areas that can be established by the RDEK without holding a referendum.

The Upper Columbia Valley economic service area could be up and functional as early as 2016.