VERNON - Plans to amalgamate Greater Vernon into one community have been resurrected.
The Society for the Future Governance of Greater Vernon has launched a petition to put amalgamation back in the spotlight. The petition asks local and provincial authorities to "develop a plan to combine our regional governments (City of Vernon, District of Coldstream, Electoral Area B, and Electoral Area C) into a single entity, for the purpose of more efficient use of our local tax dollars."
Jason Shortt, with the society, runs a local land surveying business and says a unified Greater Vernon would thrive.
"Being in a business that deals with local government, you see the inefficiencies, you see the overlap, and I believe there's a better way," Shortt says.
The question of amalgamation has come up time and time again, but society president Bruce Shepherd says this time it's different.
"It's come up before at different venues, but never as a citizens effort to bring it forward in this way. Our belief is the only way to be successful is for citizens to say we want this to change," Shepherd says.
The society, which was originally formed in 2005 with the vision of uniting all of the North Okanagan, hopes to put the question of amalgamation to voters in a 2014 referendum. They believe multiple governments overseeing Greater Vernon is redundant, costly and taking precious funds away from community development projects.
“Anyone who’s lived in Greater Vernon for the last 15 years knows very well the turf wars and arguments between Coldstream, Vernon, the regional district and the electoral areas,” Shepherd says. “And they continue to this day.”
A core services review of the City of Vernon this year highlighted amalgamation as an opportunity to streamline local government and save money.
“Citizens should ask why, in a 30 km circle around Vernon with 58,000 people, we need two mayors, 12 councillors, a regional district board and three compliments of highly paid senior staff,” Shepherd says. “We believe we need to start thinking as one community.”
Their personal beliefs aside, Shepherd and Shortt just want to engage people in the debate and give Greater Vernon the chance to say if it wants to be one community or not.
“It’s not a petition to amalgamate, it’s a petition to simply put it on the table,” Shortt says.
The petition is open until October 31st. Vernon Mayor Rob Sawatzky says amalgamation was identified as a possible cost-saving by the accounting firm KPMG, not a guaranteed one.
"(KPMG) did not say that it would clearly be cheaper. What (they) said is it is an opportunity to look at whether that would be cheaper or not," Sawatzky says.
Because of his role as mayor, he’s hesitant to say whether or not he supports amalgamation, but he’s glad the society has started a conversation about it.
"I think that's healthy, that the community gets to discuss and debate those things," he says.
Shepherd says that’s the society’s whole idea.
“It might be amalgamation, it might not,” Shepherd says. “Which is why it’s important for citizens on both sides of the issue to sign the petition… local and provincial politicians won’t take the initiative to find cost and efficiency savings in governance unless taxpayers demand it.”
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at email@example.com, call (250)309-5230 or tweet @charhelston.
This story was edited at 1 p.m. September 10 to add information from Bruce Shepherd and Jason Shortt.