It was standing room only Monday night, when the Islands Trust executive committee and key staffers visited the island for a joint council meeting.
The topic at the tip of Bowenites’ tongues was the proposed $332,658 2019 tax levy from the Islands Trust, an increase of 13 per cent over last year. The levy part of the budget going to Trust council next week.
Pleas from six impassioned public commenters and 46 letters from islanders ranged from support for the trust, negotiating down Bowen’s contribution, to Bowen leaving the Trust entirely.
Of officials, Islands Trust Chair Peter Luckham spoke first, noting that Bowen is a full member of the federation, with two representatives and full voting privileges.
“None of us live here in isolation,” he said, highlighting the Trust’s mandate to “preserve and protect” the islands in the Salish Sea.
“Bowen Island shares in the wealth of a protected islands Trust area. We are proud of this and it is, honestly, what gets me up in the morning,” concluded Luckham.
Bowen mayor, Gary Ander, spoke next, addressing the elephant in the room.
He said that Bowen has many partners to which the island pays taxes.
“Unlike other partners, we have nothing tangible to show for our increase, except advocacy,” he said. “which we appreciate.” He noted for other services, such as TransLink, Bowen can see the benefits, like a bus service.
“If we were not to pay our [requisition] this year, there would be zero change to Bowen Island, sort of physically or something we could put our hands on.”
“[As with] any relationship, we’ve got to try to fix it. We’ve got to try to mend it. And that’s the first thing we have to do. And if we can’t do that, then we’ve got to part company,” said Ander. “Which…hopefully we aren’t ever going to get there.”
Bowen councillor Michael Kaile read from a letter from a Bowener, urging the Islands Trust to exact less from the island.
“The Trust is like a parent whose children were well brought up,” he read. “They should be looking at easing back, realizing distant oversight from Victoria is less needed as the local government has matured.”
Councillor Maureen Nicholson noted that there’s nothing in motion at council at the moment in terms of Bowen looking to split from the Trust and that changing the levy will be a long term process and won’t be solved by lining up on one side or the other.
Islands Trust chief administrative officer, Russ Hotsenpiller ran through the Islands Trust’s functions. He clarified that Bowen’s requisition contributes to the Trust Council, Executive Committee, policies, provincial advocacy and cooperation, administrative support and functions and the Trust Conservancy Board, which acquires and manages land (Bowen has three nature reserves that come under the purview of the Islands Trust Conservancy). It does not go toward local trust committees, community land use planning, land use regulation and development management, services that other trust areas pay for. He said that the costs for those services are not factored into Bowen’s contribution.
Claire Frater, director of Trust Area Services summarized some of the Trust’s advocacy, covering BC Ferries, groundwater, species at risk, Trans Mountain pipeline advocacy, anchorages, derelict and abandoned vessels and more locally, the threat of logging on Bowen’s Crown lands in 2017.
Then came the crux of the presentation – the requisition.
The Islands Trust director of administrative services, Julia Mobbs, explained that Bowen’s contribution to the Trust is on the one hand mandated in Section 47 of the Islands Trust Act, that the amount is to be “approportioned between the municipalities and the local trust areas on the basis of the converted value of land and improvements in the trust area.”
The tax calculation, however, is codified in Islands Trust Policy 7.2.6, adopted in 2004.
Due to recent requests from Bowen Island Trustees, Michael Kaile and Sue Ellen Fast (who is also on the Trust’s Executive Committee), the Trust’s Financial Planning Committee has asked Trust staff to review the policy with the concept of “fairness” in mind. The committee meets next in May.
However, Hotsenpiller and Mobbs did say that islanders are paying the same tax rate as the rest of the Trust. Bowen has the second highest property values in the Trust area (after Salt Spring), which contributes to its levy.