At the September 6 regional district director’s board meeting, Area “D” Director Tom Siddon told the board that the province was looking for a show of support for a provincial incorporation study for the community of Okanagan Falls.
Should the province proceed, this will be the second time Okanagan Falls residents have had to explore the idea of becoming a village – but before they do, they might want to consider whether or not the community has advanced enough since the last attempt in 1989.
A major pitfall we see for incorporation in Okanagan Falls is the problem that has perennially plagued Keremeos – a lack of a tax absorbing commercial, retail and industrial base.
As a result, more than 70 per cent of Keremeos’ tax revenues go towards municipal salaries. If it weren’t for provincial and federal subsidies and grants, Keremeos would be bankrupt.
So far, in Okanagan Falls there has been nothing to replace the Weyerhaueser mill which closed in 2008, and the retail section of the community, although improving, continues to struggle much like Keremeos’ downtown. While the community’s prospects look good for future growth, who can know how long it will be before the economy improves enough to bring new industry to the community’s industrial park?
In the meantime, residential taxpayers will be footing a major portion of the bill for new village offices, staffing, mayor and council – not to mention the prospect of taking on the maintenance of the community’s infrastructure. (The province’s Local Government Structure branch does provide some financial assistance for communities in transition to incorporation.)
The province has indicated it will not proceed with the study without sufficient positive interest on the part of the residents. Whatever decision they collectively make, it is our hope that there are sufficient facts and numbers out there for them to make a truly informed decision.