By Mike Campol
Town of Osoyoos Councillor
As I gathered my thoughts to write this piece, I was aware of the potential blow back that I’m likely to receive — “You are just complaining because you were unprepared to deal with this.” “You’re pitting communities against each other.” etc . . .
It certainly appears to be the case that the provincial government was caught off guard and ill-prepared to deal with Osoyoos in a timely matter.
Perhaps that’s understandable. Our secondary school was all but closed last year as enrolment declined and the school district forecast further decline in the coming years. Development permits were not seeing a significant increase. And aside from visitor growth, there really was no reason to think we would surpass the 5,000 mark that necessitates additional local commitment to policing costs.
But I also wonder if the provincial government isn’t unintentionally picking winners and losers in rural BC. It would appear so and here is where I expect that I’ll take some heat.
In a Town that hovers around the 5,000 population mark, a one-precent tax increase results in less than $25,000 in tax revenue. I won’t get into all of the math right now but if Osoyoos is going to incur 70% of policing costs while maintaining a contingency for possible circumstance within policing, there is more than likely going to be a very significant increase in costs to our residents — and that could mean a significant increase in local taxes as well.
Let’s now look at some facts.
- We almost lost our only secondary school and we have no guarantee that this won’t re occur in the foreseeable future as the funds provided to keep our school open are applied for annually.
- A community neighbour has multiple elementary schools and a shiny new and under-utilized high school.
- Our community neighbour also has a hospital with an emergency room.
- That same community neighbour is home to a regional provincial services centre.
Why does this matter?
As we hover around 5,000 population and potentially incur a significant increase in policing costs for the same level of policing services as that neighbour, how will we then look as a community of choice for people pondering a move to the South Okanagan?
How will they measure significantly higher taxes, uncertain K-12 education and limited health care services — and then compare our circumstances with that community neighbour?
The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, Oliver and Osoyoos currently work within similar policing models. This works because of close proximity allowing the detachments to help each other.
Why should Osoyoos now have to pay considerably more for this shared service because of an additional 100 or so residents?
BC clearly has a rural economic sustainability problem — rural health care, rural education and rural essential services to name a few.
The most recent download to Osoyoos will most certainly add a set of entirely new challenges to this rural community and will absolutely make it more challenging for us to grow our base to help meet this latest economic upset.
We will — as always — do our best to deal with the cards that we’re dealt, but I suspect we’ll also have one eye nervously casting about, wondering what might be the next download.
We are a community of involved citizens, making up for rural challenges through volunteering and non-profit organizations. I am forever proud of this community for its willingness to get involved, fight for what’s right and for always being charitable when and where it matters.
But when will the provincial government recognize this and help us find solutions for our unique and vibrant community?