Administrative headquarters for the Regional District of Central Okanagan in Kelowna. (File photo)

Tempers fly over a pricey picnic shelter in the North Westside

Lack of detail on $121,000 shelter expenditure further incites self-govenance wishes

A basic picnic shelter – four posts and a roof – has become a symbol of the dysfunctional relationship between the North Westside rural area residents and the Regional District of Central Okanagan (RDCO).

Efforts by the North Westside Communities Association (NWCA) to get a breakdown on the $121,500 cost for the picnic shelter, one of three built in the area by the regional district at a total cost of $235,000, were rebuffed by the regional district, suggesting the association could pursue a Freedom of Information request to the tune of $1,997.50.

“In the end, this is another example of trying to get information based on a reasonable request and for whatever reason, it always turns into a fight,” said Caillie Simpson, a member of the NWCA executive and tasked with pursuing the issue of self-governance.

Simpson took it upon herself to track down the supplier of the picnic shelter in Squamish who told her the shipping and material costs for the structure were about $21,000, leaving her wondering what the remainder of the cost entailed, hence the request for a project cost breakdown.

Simpson cited the example of the picnic shelter in her introductory statement at the inaugural meeting of a regional self-governance committee struck and made a recommendation to the regional district board on the need to pursue an independent self-governance analysis for North Westside, which includes the communities of Fintry, Killiney, La Casa, Westshore Estates, Caesar’s Landing and Valley of the Sun.

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As was cited by a consultant hired by the regional board to assess the relationship between North Westsiders and the regional district in 2017, Simpson said there remains a serious lack of trust in the relationship.

“We have been asking for this governance study since 2016. While other communities with regional districts such as North Okanagan, Kootenay Boundary and Thompson Nicola have had their regional boards support their communities in this endeavour, we have been fighting for several years now just to get a study,” Simpson said.

“What is there to hide about this? We just want an honest, independent assessment of whether it is in the best interests of the North Westside to pursue it via a referendum or it doesn’t, and try to rebuild the relationship with the regional district.

“I have had to jump through so many hoops just to get in front of the board and speak on this issue, that raises red flags to me.”

Simpson said she is hopeful the committee, chaired by regional board vice-chair and West Kelowna Mayor Gord Milsom, can be a stepping stone toward proceeding with a self-governance study.

Also serving on the committee are Simpson, rural area directors Wayne Carson and Mark Bartyik, CAO Brian Reardon and deputy CFO Marilyn Rilkoff. Regional board chair Gail Given sits on the committee as an ex-officio (non-voting) member as per regional district committee policy.

Given said the regional board doesn’t want to predetermine any outcomes from the self-governance committee.

“We want to allow the committee to do its work under its terms of reference…it is open-ended as to when the committee brings its recommendations to the board,” Given said.

She cautioned that the provincial ministry of municipal affairs also plays a role in the decision-making process as the ministry must approve a grant to cover the self-governance study cost.

Carson, the regional director for North Westside electoral area, said the picnic shelter is just an example of the breakdown of communication between the RDCO and his constituents, who feel a stronger community service association to the North Okanagan than to the Central Okanagan.

“It’s not any one group’s fault, the lack of communication — the community, myself or the regional board. It is a combination of everyone,” he said.

“There is a push among residents to be our independent community but there is a lack of hard facts to determine if that is justified financially or not. We need that self-governance study to answer those questions, so one way or the other we are all pulling in the same direction.”

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Central Okanagan Regional District