Library tax fails by slim margin

Keremeos Library funding cliffhanger. Tax requisition fails.

At least one area director is ‘disappointed’ a bylaw to collect tax money to keep the Keremeos library at its current service level has failed in the alternative approval process.

Preliminary results show that 432 negative responses were received by the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen by the cutoff date of January 20.

“I”m disappointed,” George Bush, Area B director said. “I really don’t want to see the library close one day a week and also the lack of money cuts out on special projects they can do for the children.”

To fail, negative responses from 10 per cent of the collective area, or 421 responses, were required.

Christy Malden, manager of legislative services for the RDOS said that although staff looks into the forms to check they are sent from residents in the area, there is no 100 per cent way to ensure the forms were all sent by people that live in the catchment area.

“What we do is go through them and have a look. We try to determine if they are out of area. We did receive a few submissions from Princeton. They must not have realized this wasn’t something they were eligible to comment on. We do a fair amount of checks but there’s no way to be 100 per cent sure,” she said.

People who are eligible to submit in the alternative approval process include any resident not just landowner so checking by tax roll is not applicable.

The tax requisition was discussed for well over 18 months by directors Bush, Area G director Elef Christensen and Keremeos Mayor Manfred Bauer.

An open house was held in Keremeos where more than 100 people attended all seemingly in support of raising taxes minimally to makeup for a shortfall in the Okanagan Regional Library board budget.

It wasn’t until the alternative approval process was to start that Christensen raised concerns about the community of Hedley being included in the requisition.

It appears that a miscommunication of some sort occurred while drafting the bylaw as Hedley was excluded in previous discussions between directors and the ORL because it had its own library.

Christensen mailed out forms and a one-page letter to residents in Hedley about the tax requisition claiming it would cost the average homeowner an additional $11.99 a year in taxes.

The correct figure was close to $7 a year and in exchange the ORL Board committed to increasing hours to the Hedley Library so it could be open two days a week for at least one year.

Keremeos Mayor Manfred Bauer recently spoke out against Christensen’s attempt to influence taxpayers saying, “Elected officials and their designates should not try to manipulate the outcome of an AAP (alternative approval process). We need to trust the electorate and the democratic process. It is very easy to disseminate the wrong information while expressing a particular view. At $ 7 or 8 for the average household to keep library services at current levels, the residents in the valley are well served including many residents from Hedley considering the limited hours available at the Hedley branch.”

Bauer was not available for comment on the story as he is out of the country.

Options for the directors include holding a referendum on the issue but that would be unlikely as it would cost approximately $10,000.

Directors could also use contingency funding from their separate area’s to fund the $24,500 Keremeos library shortfall for one year.

The directors did that in 2016, but would only be allowed to do that once more under RDOS policy.

A new bylaw with different wording could also come forward pending provincial approval.

A formal report will come forward to directors at the next RDOS board meeting on February 2.