Photo: Fort St. John resident Lisa Boda speaks to Council about the proposed boundary expansion – Erica Fisher/Energeticcity.ca
Clarification – Just to clarify one point in this story that some readers have been confused about. The Ministry involved has given the City approval to move forward with the boundary expansion. What that means is the City can now ask City residents if they want to move forward expansion and if the City does move forward, they will most likely use the alternative approval process which is explained below.
City Council has delayed the vote on the proposed expansion of Fort St. John. Council had intended to make a decision at Monday's Council Meeting, but decided to table the vote due to apparent confusion amongst councilors about the process.
The last time Fort St. John looked into boundary expansion was in 2007. At that time there were up to 12 areas of land being considered. This time, they've narrowed it down to 3 key areas adjacent to city limits that City Manager Dianne Hunter says really need to be cleaned up.
The initial confusion surrounded whether or not the Peace River Regional District approves the proposal. Hunter was under the impression that they had been given the go ahead on these areas, under one condition: that the taxes that would have gone to the Regional District be forwarded to the it for a period of five years. However, Arthur Hadland, Director of Electoral Area 'C', disputed that, maintaining that there is still an objection.
Fort St. John residents also spoke out on behalf of land owners affected by the proposed expansion at the meeting. City resident Lisa Boda argued that there hasn't been effective communication to those affected. She says people in the area are under the impression that the expansion has already been approved and that there is nothing they can do about it.
The proposal has been met with much criticism from those affected. Letters opposing the expansion were forwarded to the Ministry of Community and Rural Development, but despite that, they have already given their approval to proceed. The approval means the City can move forward when ready and ask City residents if they approve of the expansion. Despite the Ministry's satisfaction with the consultation of the city at that point, Hunter says the City wasn't happy, resulting in further discussion with residents.
Instead of making a decision, Council voted to wait and hold an open house where residents can ask questions and speak to council members one on one about the issue. After the open house, Council will hold a special Committee of the Whole meeting, which will also be open to the public, but at which residents cannot ask questions. No decisions can be made at that meeting. The open house will be held in October, to give councilors time to prepare and for the confusion regarding the position of the Regional District to be clarified.
If Council decides to proceed with the boundary expansion, Hunter recommends using an alternative approval process. That means city electors can voice their opposition by completing a form available on the city's website and Facebook page as well as at City Hall. If over 10%, or 1265 electors, do so, Council has the option of holding a referendum. At any time council can choose not to move forward. However, the final decision rests with the Ministry.
If they decide to go forward, Council will also have the option to recommend to phase in taxes to those affected. Hunter says this is traditionally done over 3-5 years, with taxes increased by 20% annually. Land that still would not receive city services like water and sewage would pay lower taxes than those who would. All of the areas under discussion are able to be serviced, although the decision will lie with the developers, not the city.