Value for service ratio deemed unfair
A portion of Bowen Island taxpayers’ money is collected by the Bowen Island Municipality and sent on to the Islands Trust, a regional governing body that covers the islands and waters between the British Columbia mainland and southern Vancouver Island. It includes 13 major and more than 450 smaller islands covering 5200 square kilometres.
Councillors Wolfgang Duntz and Andrew Stone are Bowen’s Islands Trust trustees and they felt it important to communicate their positions to island residents. Duntz said, “Do we receive value for what we send to the Islands Trust? I would say no, we don’t. There is a great disparity between what we pay and what we receive.” Duntz explained that Bowen Island paid $67,000 a year in 2000 and now pays close to $230,000. “There is no justification for an increase of more than 300 per cent,” he said.
Stone said, “The issue of receiving value for our money from the Islands Trust is a long standing one with Bowen Islanders. Part of the reason it is coming to the forefront is that we are now getting our house in order and are paying attention to things that haven’t been attended to.”
Stone said that when Bowen was a fledgling incorporated entity, the focus shifted away from the Islands Trust. “We were busy crafting bylaws and building our own infrastructure - we were spending little time on the Islands Trust.” He added that even though Bowen removed itself psychologically, the connection was never severed.
“We are a full member of the Islands Trust,” Stone said, explaining that the membership is legislated by the province. “There is some thinking with some people that we have outgrown the Trust and should separate,” Stone said. “But the province mandated the Trust 39 years ago and the reasons for it haven’t changed.” The Islands Trust is responsible for preserving and protecting the unique environment and amenities of the Islands Trust area.
Duntz says that the fundamental problem lies in the text of legislation that was added when the Islands Trust act was changed to accommodate Bowen Island as a municipality. “That was not well thought out. No consideration was given to what a divergence of Bowen Island property assessments from assessments on the rest of the islands would do to the funding formulas,” he said. “Since our values have gone up drastically, we now pay much more. I would say that the formula has outlived its fairness.”
Stone clarified that Bowen Island pays 15 per cent for the services of the Islands Trust that it is part of. “That rate is based on assessed values,” he said. Addressing the question of value for services, Duntz added, “We never asked the Islands Trust to provide any services. One of the major functions of the trust is land use planning. What they could provide relates to planning and mapping but we do that on our own.”
“What we pay is out of proportion but it’s legislated,” Duntz said. “And I am still convinced that the Islands Trust has an important function in regional governance.”
But bringing a negative attitude to the table is counter-productive, Duntz believes, as neither the Bowen Island Municipality nor the Islands Trust can re-write legislation. “This has to be brought to the provincial government,” he explained. “Let’s do our homework, state the facts and appeal to the responsibility of the province to remedy the situation. But this will only happen if Bowen Island takes up the initiative with the province.”
Stone believes that a cooperative and respectful relationship with the Islands Trust will be an asset in going forward. “We see ourselves as partners with the Islands Trust. And this is the right timing to bring up this issue as changes are underway with Salt Spring Island’s status and funding formulas have to be reviewed throughout the Trust,” Duntz said, adding, “We have Salt Spring with close to 11,000 residents and other islands with 300 inhabitants. We need to establish a fairness both in costs and services.” Both Stone and Duntz believe that there is no quick fix. “Anything dealing with legislation can take years,” Duntz says. “But the effort to bring it to the province’s attention is worth while if we can reduce Bowen’s contribution by half.”
Stone and Duntz agree that the Islands Trust plays an important role in addressing regional concerns. “The Islands Trust is very outspoken against increasing tanker traffic along the coast,” Duntz said. “It is a quiet and powerful lobby that has been part of the ferry fare debates and looks at issues like the creation of an artificial reef on Gambier Island.”