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Pemberton expansion raises governance issues

Comments come in response to SLRD presentation

Governance issues are sure to arise if the Village of Pemberton expands its boundaries, according to Susie Gimse, director of Electoral Area C for the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District.

That’s what she told a meeting of the SLRD board on Sept. 30 following a presentation that demonstrated how a proposed boundary expansion could affect taxation in the region.

For months the VOP has been developing a proposal that could see it amalgamate 20 new areas that currently lie within Area C. Those areas include properties along Airport Road, the Pemberton Creek watershed and the Rutherford Creek Power Plant.

They’re being slated for inclusion as part of a tax-grab for a community that has long had to depend on government money for infrastructure projects and other initiatives.

But taxes aren’t the only problem, if Gimse is correct. She said at the meeting that Pemberton currently has two jurisdictions, and that the current proposal could exacerbate existing tensions between them.

“Right now we have a boundary proposal for Pemberton that is spotty,” Gimse said. “Are we as a community being served well with two separate jurisdictions or should we have one jurisdiction?

“We should look at the boundary and we should look at ensuring that the boundary is in fact the right boundary, and I’m not sure the boundary is the correct one. …I’d even hazard to say we should abolish the proposal and create a whole new jurisdiction.”

She said the VOP and SLRD Area C share in “absolutely everything” when it comes to services, and that both areas have had a lot of “confusion and conflict” for a number of years.

“It really has created issues for us for a number of years and will continue to do so,” Gimse said. “In my mind the proposed boundary will make the current situation worse than it already is.”

Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed, who serves on the SLRD board, echoed some of Gimse’s concerns and asked how the expansion could impact regional strategies to combat greenhouse gases.

“In the absence of a greenhouse gas reductions plan, what does expansion, such as that contemplated by the VOP, how does that fit in with our overall greenhouse gas reductions strategy?” he asked.

Melamed also said the boundary expansion is being used to accelerate development of Ravens Crest, a 287-acre property being sought out as a location for developments including a GEMS school, an independent private school that could attract international students.

Melamed has previously speculated as to whether the GEMS school is part of a trend of “gentrification” in the Pemberton Valley, meaning developments that could be driving up housing pressures.

The boundary expansion, he said, is being used to accelerate that process.

Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy, however, has already shot down Melamed’s concerns about “gentrification” and at the Sept. 30 meeting said it would be a bad idea to rework the boundary expansion.

“That’s about the worst-case scenario that I can come up with, let’s involve the whole regional district in a rework,” he told the meeting. “This is a relatively minor boundary extension application. In terms of making the governance system worse, I think it can hardly make it worse.

“When we talk about jurisdictions… we can’t forget that there’s also the Lil’wat Nation, there’s also the Pemberton Valley Dyking District, there’s also the school board, it’s hardly a simple governance situation.”

Sturdy then told the meeting that the VOP provides services to all properties along Airport Road, but that the properties adjacent to the road don’t pay taxes to the village.

“I feel that this is a logical, reasonable step in the right direction,” he said.

The Sept. 30 meeting of the SLRD also saw the board extend a lease on the Old Pemberton Community Centre to March 31, 2009.

It was initially believed that the old community centre would have to be torn down, but Mount Currie is currently without a gymnasium during construction of a new one, and Sturdy has said that the old centre could still be used for recreational services.

The board also forwarded a request to School District 48 to extend the centre’s lease to March 31, 2010.