Special to OsoyoosToday
Penticton Herald Staff
Better maintenance of rural roads, a mechanism to appeal school closings and assistance for those unfairly hit by two-tier power rates are among the requests local politicians will put to provincial ministers during a series of meetings later this month.
Staff and directors from the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen have scheduled with a range ministers during the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention Sept. 25-29 in Vancouver.
Draft briefing notes for some of those meetings will be presented to the board at its regular meeting today.
Concerns about rural roads range from poor maintenance and snow removal to the overgrowth of vegetation in the ditches alongside them.
“The quality of rural roads in the RDOS is a constant complaint from area residents,” one briefing note states.
“General care and maintenance activities are not seen as being completed effectively by contractors which are under the supervision of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.”
A related note speaks to inconsistencies in care of roads within the RDOS compared to the neighbouring Boundary region.
In Boundary, “all roads going to homes, if occupied, are graded regularly and dust control is put on the road. While in the Okanagan it seems to be a battle to get the road graded once per year,” the RDOS claims.
The note concludes with a request for the B.C. government to review its contracts with road contractors “to ensure reasonable levels of road maintenance activities are being completed.”
On the issue of school closings, the RDOS reminds the education minister that three facilities – West Bench Elementary, Trout Creek Elementary and Osoyoos Secondary – were all slated to close in 2016 and their host communities would have been devastated by the losses.
“School boards and their elected trustees are responsible for administering education in the province, including the facilities necessary to conduct that business,”the briefing note explains. “The regional district clearly understands that mandate and would not presume to intervene in the really difficult debate and decisions that those elected officials face in times of declining enrolment.
“The regional district would argue, however, that there are other, broader factors that should be considered prior to school closure that affect the social and economic fabric of a community that fall within the mandate of a local government, not a school board.”
As a result, the RDOS is asking for the B.C. government to mandate school districts consult with local governments prior to closings, and create mechanisms through which local governments can appeal school board decisions or enter into agreements with school districts to help foot the bill for keeping facilities open.
Finally, on the issue of two-tier power rates, the RDOS will ask the B.C. government to come up with a plan to assist low-income rural residents who are disproportionately affected by the scheme because they have no choice but to rely on electricity for home heating.
The briefing note explains how the RDOS began in 2014 making noise about the issue with FortisBC, the B.C. Utilities Commission and the B.C. government, but with little in the way of results.
“BCUC’s reaction and lack of response from Fortis regarding requests for consultation and referral have been discouraging,” the note states.
Other planned meetings with ministers concern a proposed split of Area D, the provincial Fire Smart program and a gas-capture pilot project at the Campbell Mountain Landfill.