The idea of extending civic election terms from a three-year to a four-year cycle has been tossed around the province’s annual meeting of municipalities for years.
This week, Coralee Oakes, minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, announced she will put forth legislation in the near future to extend local government terms from three years to four, following the passing of a resolution supporting the extension at the 2013 Union of British Columbia Municipalities.
“The move to four-year terms is part of a package of local election reforms.” said the minister in a release. “Four-year terms give local governments more time to consult, plan and achieve community goals and also help manage election costs.”
This means all elected mayors and officials serving Rossland, Warfield, Trail, Montrose, Fruitvale and Salmo; regional district directors in Electoral Areas A and B; and nine trustee chairs in School District 20, would extend their rule into 2018.
Although the decision to add one year to the current three-year term has been a battle between urban and rural, Warfield’s mayor said the process was completed democratically and could be beneficial to the community.
“My opinion is to support the majority,” said Mayor Bert Crockett. “Rurally, being mayor or on council isn’t a job like in the bigger centres. But who knows, it may be a good thing.”
Crockett explained his concern that the extra year could increase byelection costs if the elected official vacates the seat in the first three years.
“Things change in people’s lives all the time and if the person becomes frustrated or walks away in Year Three, in terms of dollars and cents, this could end up costing more for a byelection.”
In the 2008 municipal elections, the question to extend elected official terms was put to the voters in Trail and five other B.C. communities, and according to Trail Mayor Dieter Bogs, 60 per cent of Silver City respondents were in favour of adding one year.
“Of all the communities asked at that time, the people of Trail voted the highest in favour of it,” said the mayor. “Personally, I think this it is a positive move that will add more stability to local councils.”
Bogs’ view is reiterated by Lorraine Manning, a Trail resident who has served as school trustee intermittently since the 1970’s.
Manning attended the provincial council of the B.C.School Trustees Association in October, when the topic was on the table for 60 school district representatives to debate before voting for or against serving one extra year.
Ultimately, the motion in favour of a four-year term was carried by a slim margin, she said.
“For a new trustee, the first year is about getting your feet wet because it takes a bit of learning to understand things like budget,” explained Manning. “The second year, you just start to get into it, and then the third year, there is another election. So I think it’s really good because a fourth year is better for planning and continuity.”
However, she acknowledged Crockett’s point about possible costs related to people walking away from an elected position by the third year.
“That is my fear,” she said. “People may not want to commit and drop out before the fourth year,” she said. “Then we will have to hold a byelection which will add extra costs to the board.”
In smaller rural communities, traditionally elected officials have not been in favour of a four-year term, citing time commitment and lack of remuneration, which is a position that Greg Granstrom, Rossland’s two-term mayor sides with.
“The remuneration for councillors in the majority of B.C. communities is far less than minimum wage when the time involved is calculated,” said Granstrom. “I do not believe this change helps a very complex situation.
“While it may save a few dollars in election costs it may well cost more in the loss of appetite for new people to get involved, as well as the loss of some very dedicated people.”