Incorporation referendum looms

  • Apr. 5, 2005 11:00 a.m.

By Heidi Bevington-The Queen Charlotte/Skidegate Landing incorporation study committee hosted two meetings this week to give people one last chance to ask questions of the committee, consultant Tom Reid and Ministry of Community Affairs representative Cathy Watson.
Sunday afternoon the incorporation study committee held an open house, which committee chair Leslie Johnson said 13 residents attended.
Monday evening, after a presentation by Mr. Reid, reviewing the key points of the incorporation study, about 30 people had an open discussion moderated by Clemens Rettich, principal of Queen Charlotte Secondary School.
A key concern for several people was the impact of incorporation on businesses in the community.
Mr. Reid explained that some municipalities are more business friendly than others. In some places business taxes are kept low to encourage businesses to open, while in other areas the council uses taxes and zoning bylaws to discourage business.
However, home-based businesses would continue to be allowed in the community because that is a part of the official community plan, which the new municipality would inherit. And the management of businesses wouldn’t change. For instance, if someone has a small home-based business and no GST number, they won’t suddenly have to get a GST number if the community incorporates.
Business licenses aren’t generally used as means of restricting business competition, said Mr. Reid. A community will zone an area for commercial purposes, and then if three or four people want to open convenience stores beside each other they are free to do so. In some larger communities like Vancouver business regulations might be used to close down a business where crimes like prostitution are taking place, but he said he doubted that would be a problem in a place like Queen Charlotte.
Bylaws and referendums were another lively topic of discussion with several people asking questions about the process of passing bylaws, and when a referendum would or could take place.
Mr. Reid explained that a referendum must take place if a council wishes to change the municipal boundaries or the number of people on the council. Residents must also be given the opportunity to force a referendum when council proposes a bylaw to borrow money.
Since referendums can be costly, between $1,000 and $2,000 for a community the size of Queen Charlotte, they are not commonly held, said Mr. Reid. When Vancouver city council wants to ask the public’s opinion about capital spending, they wait until the municipal elections that happen every three years and put several proposed projects on the ballot at once.
The public cannot force a referendum for other bylaws that don’t involve borrowing money, said Mr. Reid, for instance animal control or zoning bylaws. However, all bylaws must be voted on at public council meetings, and people can influence decisions in other ways by speaking at meetings or presenting petitions. People can stay current with what council is doing by attending meetings, reading notices posted in public places and checking the community internet site, he said.
The third major topic of discussion was the regional district’s plan to raise taxes in Area F, as well as other areas, to balance its budget. Prince Rupert’s financial troubles are having a ripple effect throughout the district. Mr. Reid explained that incorporation would not take effect until 2006, regardless of how the vote goes this weekend.
Area F director Carol Kulesha said that incorporation would give the community more clout and diminish the regional district’s argument that Queen Charlotte is a drain on the district’s resources. The regional district proposes a significant increase to the water and sewer administration for Queen Charlotte this year, and also plans to do a study of Queen Charlotte’s use of district resources. It’s almost certain that taxes will rise as a consequence of the regional district’s 2005 budget, she said.
The meeting ended on a positive note with Ms Watson saying that compared to other incorporated communities, Queen Charlotte and Skidegate Landing are “healthy and robust communities with lots of community infrastructure already in place.”
Assessed land values in Queen Charlotte are equal to Masset and Port Clements combined, said Ms Kulesha, and “we have a good chance of being successful as an incorporated community.”