RDCK’s sustainability service in doubt

The City of Nelson was the lone holdout from the Regional District of Central Kootenay
The City of Nelson was the lone holdout from the Regional District of Central Kootenay's sustainability service, established four years ago. Now six other areas want out.
— image credit: Nelson Star file photo

Six areas in the Regional District of Central Kootenay now want to withdraw from a catch-all environmental service established four years ago.

The sustainability service was meant to deal with things like energy conservation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, Nelson refused to join and now four other municipalities — Salmo, New Denver, Nakusp, and Castlegar — as well as two electoral areas around Creston have served notice they want out, citing concerns about the service’s scope and what benefit they receive.

The Star canvassed directors for those areas for their specific reasons. Among those who responded, Castlegar mayor Lawrence Chernoff said he was worried about duplication of services and delivery of different services than first anticipated.

Salmo mayor Ann Henderson similarly said her council decided the service was no use to them and was straying from its original intent. “The amount contributed was going to increase. As well there was a large surplus,” she said.

New Denver mayor Ann Bunka also said the service does little for her community and if other participants drop out, it will either cost more or provide less.

Rural Creston director John Kettle, who chairs the board, said he opposes the current service because it has become “a dumping ground for special projects that circumvent in my opinion guidelines for an established service area.”

Kettle added Nelson’s absence was problematic. “If it is going to be a board service we need all of the board on board,” he said.

Not everyone agrees with that assessment, however. East Shore director Gary Jackman said the service has several elements that only apply to certain areas, such as the Kootenay Lake Partnership and community wildfire protection.

“We should at least examine what’s common and critical to a group of areas if they want to hang on to this,” he said. “Other areas may not want to be involved for five years. If later they want to come back in, that’s a separate discussion.”

Under the bylaw it takes two years for a participant to withdraw but things may come to a head sooner.

Chief administrator Brian Carruthers said before any decisions are made, staff will present an overview on January 29 of the service’s history, intent and purpose, along with its financial status and the implications of dissolving it.

“There has been some misunderstanding as to the types of projects being funded,” he said. “The service was intended to be fairly broad when it was first established.”

Carruthers said it is already a challenge to run the service with one municipality not participating, and diluting it further will cause problems.

Although the sustainability service has no dedicated staff positions, Carruthers said it funds a portion of the regional district’s development services department and also leverages “significant” grant funding.

A current surplus can fund any outstanding obligations, but if the number of participants is reduced, “the entire service would need to be looked at as to what role it plays and who it serves.”

He also cautioned the board that withdrawing from a service requires ministerial approval, and the minister may ask what efforts participants have made to resolve the matter.

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