OKANAGAN FALLS - It's been over a year since the regional district's satellite office in Okanagan Falls was re-purposed to handle a broader ranch of services.
The Okanagan Falls Community Services office went from an economic development function to one that deals with an increasingly broader mandate of regional issues.
Area “D” Director Tom Siddon says he hoped to bring regional district services closer to Area “D” residents, likening the move to de-centralization of the regional district. He envisions the office to be a compact version of regional district headquarters, where residents can access regional services they need without having to drive into Penticton.
"Rural services manager Shona Schleppe was hired last year to deal with emerging issues within the area. She’s meeting with advisory committees, working in conjunction with Kaleden’s rec program and the regional district trails program, and many other groups within Area “D,”” Siddon says.
The office’s budget has been cut back over the past few years from $150,000 to $132,000 this year, and Siddon says he doesn’t want to go beyond what was spent last year. That $132,000 comes out of the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen Electoral Area “D” budget of $3 million, $250,000 of which Siddon says he has direct control over.
As Siddon prepares the Area “D” budget for 2017, he says the office’s function within the area continues to evolve and is constantly being assessed, sentiments echoed by Schleppe.
“When we started, we didn’t know how this was going to work,” she says, noting it’s the first time the regional district has opened a satellite office anywhere in the district.
Schleppe says the office has helped to divert an increasing workload of phone calls and requests away from Siddon, who is also director of the largest, most diverse and highly populated of the regional district’s rural areas.
In a report delivered to the regional district board in October, office activity was summarized by 61 meetings, 715 phone calls and 678 walk-ins in a one year period, but that doesn’t take into account emails sent or meetings held away from the office.
Schleppe’s work also includes facilitating and enabling community service groups, directing them to grants and continuing to maintain an economic development function within the community.
She’s also involved with recent efforts to revitalize Okanagan Falls' downtown.
The Okanagan Falls Recreation Commission also works out of the facility, located in the OK Corral plaza. Two employees share a single full time clerical position in the office, which also manages the Okanagan Falls tourist centre located next door. The tourist office is open on a seasonal basis.
The community services office is Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m to 5 p.m., year round.
Schleppe says she continues to reach out to Area “D” groups, whether in the Okanagan Falls area or not.
“Just because they don’t visit doesn’t mean we can’t connect or provide service,” she says.
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