South Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Program Manager Bryn White continued her conversation with the regional district board regarding the establishment of a conservation fund at the July 17 Planning and Development Committee meeting.
White, who was last before the board on May 8, was seeking further support for the requistion of money through taxation to support land conservation projects within the regional district.
Telling the board “Timing is why we are here,” White offered an update to the board regarding the establishment of a service area in the regional district to provide funding for conservation projects throughout the regional district. She noted that a decision to hold a referendum on the subject in conjunction with the upcoming fall municipal elections would have to be made imminently in order to get the question on the ballot in time for the election.
White said the goal of a regional conservation fund would “need to be significant’ in order to attract leveraged contributions from outside the public sector. She suggested $500,000 annually in regional district support would provide adequate funding.
“Eighty-six per cent of residents have said they would support a dedicated conservation fund,” she said, noting there was strong public support morally, but not to make voluntary contributions. She added there was “soft support” for a tax levy.
White further stated her research indicated public support for a levy of between $10-$25 per household. At $13.50 per household throughout the regional district, the SOSCP could achieve their $500,000 target, White said.
Chief Administrative Officer Bill Newell said the new service would represent a “significant departure from the RDOS parks program, but one that fits with the regional district’s strategic plan. Although he acknowledged other regional districts in the province were already involved in similar programs, he said the establishment of such a service would be “leading edge” , noting there were other groups that could be leveraged for additional funds.
White suggested an initial project for the conservation fund could be related to water and water quality, in response to a question by Penticton Director Gary Litke.
Area “D” Director Tom Siddon advised the board to do its homework before making a decision on funding, while Cawston Director George Bush said he preferred to see a referendum on the subject.
“We need to talk to the taxpayers about this,” he said, “if not this year, then next,” adding such a fund would “beat a national park.”