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Okanagan Falls considers becoming a municipality

Click to play video: 'Economic recovery plan aims to reverse Okanagan Falls’ gradual decline'
Economic recovery plan aims to reverse Okanagan Falls’ gradual decline
Residents and businesses in Okanagan Falls have committed to a three-year plan to pull the town out of “economic paralysis.” Shelby Thom reports. – Sep 8, 2020

Okanagan Falls, the largest unincorporated community in the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, is considering becoming its own municipality lead by an elected mayor and council.

B.C.’s minister of municipal affairs gave the RDOS $80,000 to undertake an analysis in Electoral Area D and investigate the possibility of incorporation and potential boundary reconfigurations.

Ron Obirek, the director of Area D which includes Okanagan Falls and Skaha East, said the ad-hoc committee will work with staff and a local government consultant to ensure the study is neutral and balanced.

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“This process will give a fair and objective ability for everyone to participate and I hope more people choose to get involved now,” he told Global News on Sunday.

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Obirek said incorporating as a municipality would bring a myriad of benefits to the citizens of Okanagan Falls.

Click to play video: 'Community pays tribute to longtime OK Falls crossing guard before retirement'
Community pays tribute to longtime OK Falls crossing guard before retirement

“When you’re urban and suburban there are challenges with this system. It doesn’t have the same authorities… you can’t do things as a municipality like a metropolis of Keremeos or Sun Peaks or so many other communities in B.C. that are municipalities,” he said.

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Okanagan Falls has a population of 2,100, according to the 2016 census, and is situated on the south shore of Skaha Lake in the Thompson Okanagan‘s Okanagan Valley.

Obirek said the community would also become eligible for provincial grant funding towards infrastructure upgrades, such as water, sewer, and road enhancements.

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As an electoral area as opposed to a municipality, local officials have their hands tied on many issues, Obirek said, such as parking signs.

The RDOS does not have the authority to erect a tag and tow bylaw, and therefore can’t ticket or tow a vehicle for parking at the beach overnight.

“People live in their vehicles. There is vandalism. There is crime,” Obirek said.

He added that incorporation is a more democratic form of local governance that allows for greater accountability.

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“The people who make the decisions are the people you vote for. A council of five. They all live in the area, they all pay the taxes, they are all accountable, but they also know the area,” he said.

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There is only one representative for Okanagan Falls on the RDOS board of 19 members, which governs a large swath of rural and remote communities in the South Okanagan-Similkameen region.

Obirek said incorporation would also bolster downtown revitalization efforts.

Click to play video: 'Community pays tribute to longtime OK Falls crossing guard before retirement'
Community pays tribute to longtime OK Falls crossing guard before retirement

“It helps so much. The things that you can do when it comes to your Main Street revitalization to economic development, how that overlaps with planning, all those things are better under the municipal model than the regional-district one,” he said.

Interested committee members can apply until May 7.

For more information about the study, how to apply as a committee member and for updates about the process and future public engagement opportunities, visit www.rdosregionalconnections.ca/area-d-boundary-study

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