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DCC review not supported by council
An independent review of a questionable DCC bylaw process would have cost Kent taxpayers about $15,000.
However, council voted down the staff recommendation after a lengthy discussion on how to best investigate the bylaw.
It's a story that dates back to 2004, when staff and council adopted a Road DCC bylaw, the first for the District. In it, development cost charges were attached to farm improvements. According to documents from that time, concerns were raised by the local agricultural community about the charges. The non-collection of agricultural road DCCs went on from 2005 to April 2009, until the bylaw was successfully repealed and a new DCC bylaw was adopted.
In total, almost $400,000 of development cost charges were not collected. This issue has been well-known in the community, but brought to light by Allan Bott over the past several months.
While Mayor John Van Laerhoven was eager to see the issue reviewed by an independent party, other councillors said they are uncomfortable with paying for such a service.
Council was informed of other choices, including referring Bott to bring up a complaint with the provincial ombudsperson. However, they were also informed that Bott has expressed he does not wish to have the ombudsperson review the matter.
CAO Wallace Mah said the ombudsperson is fairly backlogged, and the review process could be delayed.
"This is a matter that has been going on for a long time, approximately nine years," Mah said. "We should expedite the matter and move it forward."
He said Bott has put a lot of energy into his claim, and council and staff "owes him at least that much in terms of trying to resolve this situation."
Coun. Darcy Striker, who was on council in 2004 when the original bylaw passed, said if the ombudsperson could do the service for free, then council shouldn't be paying for it.
"We should use that option as a last resort," he said.
Coun. Duane Post agreed.
Van Laerhoven attempted to push through with the independent study, reminding council that they couldn't ask the ombudsperson to investigate them.
Coun. Lorne Fisher made a motion to refer Bott to speak with the ombudsperson, a motion that passed with the support of both Post and Striker. Coun. Holger Schwichtenberg was absent from the meeting.
Bott then spoke up from the gallery, asking if he would be able to speak, a request that earned a majority vote from council.
Bott admonished Striker for speaking on the issue, since he was on council through the process. He re-stated that would not be speaking to the ombudsperson.
"You can do whatever you want," Bott said. "My conscience is clean… I'm going home."
Bott then left the building, and Van Laerhoven attempted to revive the original motion to have the district pay for an independent review of the bylaw.
With no support from council, the motion died.
In question period, Ted Westlin attempted to explain some of what happened in 2004. He was on council at the time and said he was fielding many calls from farmers on the issue.
"We didn't have an approving officer at the time," he recalled. "And when council changed, we didn't have the staff. We weren't able to give it the attention it needed."
When reached later for comment, Bott expressed his disappointment in council's decision. "The three councillors seem to have forgotten that almost $400,000 is missing from District bank accounts," he said. "To question the $15,000 cost of a quicker independent review that could well lead to the recovery of the $400,000 suggests weak decision-making skills. By refusing to bring clarity to the problem, the three councillors have become an even greater part of it.
"But iI guess it's a lot like asking a fox to help fix the hole in the chicken pen."
The Office of the Ombudsperson confirmed that it is not proper procedure for a government agency to refer itself for review.
However, the process of a review started by an individual would be begin almost immediately, they stated.
"When you contact the Office of the Ombudsperson with a complaint, a preliminary assessment is conducted. This happens very quickly, usually within a few days," said Alexis Lunn, information officer for the BC Ombudsperson.
"If it is in the office’s jurisdiction to investigate, then the complaint gets assigned to an ombudsperson officer. If an investigation is conducted, there really is no set time for completion. Generally, it depends on the complexity of the issue Once an investigation is completed, both the person making the complaint and the public authority being investigated get written notification of the outcome."