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Pemberton awaits boundary expansion feedback

SLRD won’t lose tax revenue, Lil’wat Nation claim aboriginal title

With community feedback already in place, the Village of Pemberton is now awaiting comments from local governments about the proposal to expand the village’s boundaries.

The proposal is currently in its consultation and analysis phase and must receive feedback from local governments and service providers, according to an interim report filed to Pemberton council on Aug. 12.

Among local governments, the VOP requires an official response from the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and the Lil’wat Nation before it can move to the next stage of implementation.

The report says the SLRD has a responsibility to identify any financial impacts on its services — it has thus engaged a consultant from Sussex Consultants Ltd. to review the boundary expansion from a financial perspective.

Paul Edgington, chief administrative officer of the SLRD, said in an interview that he expects to have a report on the boundary expansion at the district’s board meeting in September.

“What we would have to look at is the impact on any services that Electoral Area C participates in that would have a funding component,” he said. “Things that are done on behalf of Electoral Area C and the Village of Pemberton, things that are done in conjunction with some of the other electoral areas, and just look at what the impacts may or may not be.”

The SLRD oversees services for a variety of electoral areas that have been divided into Areas A, B, C and D.

The current proposal could see the Village of Pemberton incorporate 20 areas that lie within Electoral Area C — those areas include the Rutherford Creek Power Plant on Highway 99; properties located along Airport Road between Highway 99 and the Pemberton Airport; and the Pemberton Creek watershed, a location the VOP is considering for a power plant.

All told, the boundary expansion could bring around $200,000 in annual tax revenue to what has long been called a “tax-poor” community.

Infrastructure projects such as the new groundwater supply well, for example, have had to rely on federal and provincial funding for construction — that reliance could be alleviated if the VOP collects more tax revenue.

Mayor Jordan Sturdy stressed in an interview that the SLRD will not lose any tax money if the VOP incorporates properties from Electoral Area C. He explained that residents of those areas currently pay the rural property tax to the province, and not the SLRD, which receives revenues from tax bills for the services it provides.

“It’s just simply a transfer on where the money would be coming from,” Sturdy said. “The rural property tax is the money that goes to the province, and it never comes back, whereas in a municipality that rural property tax would be a village property tax, and that would be collected by the village and retained by the village and spent for the benefit of the community.”

The Lil’wat Nation, meanwhile, claims traditional title over the lands mentioned in the proposal, and thus must be consulted about the VOP’s expansions on its territory.

In a letter dated July 22, the Mount Currie Band of the Lil’wat Nation wrote to the Ministry of Community Development reminding the province that it is under a legal obligation to consult with them and “accommodate the aboriginal title and rights of the Lil’wat Nation” when considering potential infringement on its territory.

Sturdy said the VOP will discuss the proposal with the Lil’wat Nation in a meeting on Sept. 2, but he could not elaborate on any concerns the Lil’wat may have with the proposal.

“We will be meeting with them over the next couple of weeks to better understand their concerns and answer questions,” he said, adding that John Steil from the Vancouver office of Stantec Consulting Ltd. will deliver the same presentation in Mount Currie that he gave at a Pemberton council meeting on Aug. 12.

It was at that meeting that Steil first presented the boundary expansion interim report, which was released to the public the following week.

Once consultations are finished, the next step in expanding Pemberton’s boundaries is for Steil to prepare a final report.

From there, Pemberton council will decide whether or not to expand its boundaries. If it decides to move forward with the expansion, Steil will apply to the Ministry of Community Development.

Once that happens the ministry reviews the application, which is then sent to the provincial cabinet to resolve any outstanding issues. If there are no more issues, the cabinet can then adopt a resolution through an order-in-council and approve the boundary expansion.

Steil expects that the proposal will receive all necessary feedback by the end of September and that council will make a decision about boundary expansion in October.