Abbotsford should get out of the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD), and save almost $2 million per year.
That’s the position of the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce, which decided at a Tuesday night meeting to lobby the city to withdraw.
Chamber executive director David D. Hull said he expects the city to look favourably on the recommendation, and “we’ll march arm-in-arm to Victoria,” where the provincial government would be asked to approve the move.
The chamber’s government affairs committee produced an eight-page report, concluding that Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Mission are contributing an inordinate amount for services to people living in rural areas in the far-flung district, which covers almost 14,000 square kilometres. From the U.S. border, it stretches northward almost to Whistler in its western reaches, taking in all of Harrison Lake, and past the Nahatlatch River in the east.
“The City of Abbotsford contributed a few dollars short of two and half million dollars to the FVRD,” said chamber president Patricia Sapielak in a press release. “It appears that the only real value or service the city receives is E911 and fire dispatch worth a little over half a million dollars. We think there is up to two million dollars the city could save annually.”
Hull said Abbotsford has contributed $1.1 million toward FVRD general government and administration, another $203,000 for air quality management, and $273,000 for regional development services.
He said all of these budget items would appear to be of dubious value to Abbotsford taxpayers. Meanwhile, they are paying a greater share of the taxation for the region, based on higher property assessments in Abbotsford compared to places like Yale and Boston Bar.
Lowering property taxes for Abbotsford businesses was the chamber’s motivation to look at the issue.
Regional districts are a governance model that may have made sense in the 1960s, but a new funding model must be found for services in rural communities, Hull asserted, and it should not add to property taxes in urban areas.
Abbotsford Coun. Patricia Ross is also the FVRD chair. While she appreciates the chamber reviewing the cost of local government, she said the regional district would like to discuss the issue.
“There are a lot of implications. It’s always more complicated than it seems at first blush,” said Ross.
In a statement of response, she said:
“While we respect their perspective, we do not necessarily agree with their conclusions.
“The Regional District has, and continues to, work on improving services, reducing costs and ensuring a fair and equitable allocation of those costs across the region. We work closely with our member municipalities, including the City of Abbotsford, on a number of common issues and concerns. Many of these have been discussed in closed or in-camera sessions of the board, therefore are not for public discussions at this time,” said Ross.
Coun. John Smith is the city’s liaison to the chamber, and also attends the government affairs committee meetings. He said its members are “sharp business people” and have identified an issue that needs to be looked at.
He was doubtful that there would be $2 million in savings.
“I don’t know about their math. I think that’s a very high figure,” said Smith. “But even if it’s a million bucks, we should be saving it if we can.”
Mayor George Peary has put the issue on Monday’s council agenda, and will also have a report from district staff on Abbotsford’s role in regional government.
He stressed the chamber came up with its report independent of the city, and would not offer his opinions prior to Monday’s public debate.
Some of the services provided by the FVRD include water, sewer, street lighting, garbage collection, parks, mosquito control and waste management. Many of these services are provided by the municipalities within the FVRD: Abbotsford, Mission, Chilliwack, Hope, Kent and Harrison. The unincorporated areas are divided into eight electoral areas, A through H, with each population ranging from 3,692 to 394.
The total population of the FVRD, according to the 2006 census, was 257,000. The majority of that was in Abbotsford (124,000).