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Governance at issue in Area D election

Constituents curious about what boundary could look like in future

Pique, Nov. 10, 2011

Area D residents are jittery about governance and boundaries, say candidates hoping to represent them on the board of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD).

Five people are running to advocate for a region that includes communities as disparate as Black Tusk, Pinecrest, the Squamish Valley, Britannia Beach and Furry Creek.

And as the candidates tell it, residents in these communities either wonder or worry about the possibility of being absorbed into the Resort Municipality of Whistler or the District of Squamish, or else a new municipality being created altogether.

"I would say it's a sensitive issue," said Nancy Hamilton, a Squamish realtor and candidate for Area D. "As we start to see more concentration of development down from Porteau Cove right on up, I think it's a reality that that could be Howe Sound East. I heard a little bit about that back up in Black Tusk, people talking about having their own municipality and not being gobbled up by Whistler.

"So I think independence, being distinct communities, but sort of a united spirit in that they are all looking for a high quality of life, and so they should have that and they need someone to protect that for them."

Concerns about governance and boundaries have a basis in a report compiled by Urban Systems, a Kamloops-based local government consulting firm, which recently completed Phase 2 of a study for the SLRD that looked at options for governance in future and which arrangements and boundaries might work better for its northern and southern communities.

In the case of Howe Sound East, an area including Britannia Beach, Furry Creek and Porteau Cove with a current population of about 600 people, Urban Systems said there are significant governance implications because the population could ultimately grow to 9,500 people.

Urban Systems said it's possible that the District of Squamish could apply for a boundary expansion that would include these communities, or they could be incorporated into their own municipality.

If a municipality expands, then the areas it takes in pay that municipality's taxes, and a council, rather than a regional board, makes that community's land-use decisions.

Maurice Freitag, a candidate and Britannia Beach resident, was reluctant to comment on boundary restructuring, calling it a "touchy subject," but he said there's a possibility that a proposal to build a gondola up the Chief could end up in the District of Squamish if Squamish applied for expansion.

"Maybe the gondola project which falls in Area D will be in the district boundary by the time it gets to the approval stage," he said. "And that bothers me, because that tax base should initially go to the SLRD, but (the District) will probably expand their boundaries."

Lisa Ames, currently a councillor with the Village of Pemberton but now a Squamish resident running for Area D, has seen first-hand the process that goes into a community expanding its boundary.

She was on council when, after at least three years of waiting, Pemberton completed an initiative to expand into approximately 20 new areas, extending its tax base and giving it jurisdiction over new properties. The expansion required a provincial order-in-council.

"Ultimately, the board will take its time on how it wants to implement the recommendations," Ames said of the Urban Systems report. "Howe Sound East as its own area wouldn't happen overnight, and the population growth would have to justify it."

Bruce Bessie, a Furry Creek resident also running for Area D, said residents of Pinecrest and Black Tusk are likewise worried about any possible boundary expansion by the Resort Municipality of Whistler that would include their communities.

"I think they wonder if there will be an increase in taxes and an increase in services," he said. "The majority seem quite happy to be with the SLRD at the current time, the administration of the SLRD."

Meanwhile Deb McBride, who is also running for a seat on council for the District of Squamish, said she's not sure yet whether there should be any restructuring in Area D, although she admitted she still has to learn more about the regional district's political structure.

"I'm just getting into the political structure of it, and I wouldn't know what changes would be advisable until I would look into that more," she said.