A while ago in Rossland, there was an open forum between city staff, councillors and the public. One of the clear messages was a promise for more open government.
Recently, there has been a process conducted by the City of Rossland which has been anything but open – the proposal for an infrastructure upgrade of Columbia Avenue and Washington Street in conjunction with the Ministry of Highways repaving of Columbia Avenue this year.
The city proposes a budget of $6 million for this project, which represents a very large local tax burden for homeowners estimated by the city to be 10 per cent, with another report of closer to 17 per cent annually for the next 15-20 years.
Council approved an alternative approval process for this project. Notices of Intent were posted before Christmas in the Times and on the city website. If you did not see the notices (as I didn’t, I was out of town) or look on the City website, you may not have been aware of the city’s plans.
And, what about the people in Rossland who do not receive the Times or regularly surf the City website looking for surprises? They, like me, did not realize the implications of the process these announcements triggered, namely – if you objected to this process, you had to obtain a form from City Hall, and register it. No form implied consent!
In late January, at the last moment, a city newsletter was mailed to residents of Rossland describing the process with estimated costs, a letter not approved by council.
In my opinion, this letter should have been mailed, with full Council input in November instead of by a “below-the-radar” approach of bare minimum-required advertising.
A scant 19 people in Rossland formally objected, a number that was less than the 10 per cent requirement and so the plan is proceeding.
The whole process, while minimally following ‘due process’ appears subversive, and does not reflect open government. City staff should be ashamed of themselves. Rossland councillors Andy Stradling, Laurie Charlton and Hanne Smith expressed concerns for the approach which the city chose.
Because of the magnitude of the potential tax burden, I want Rossland council to approve a special motion allowing a referendum to be held seeking taxpayer approval for these projects and that the referendum take the form of two parts:
(1) approval for Columbia Avenue infrastructure upgrade, and
(2) separate approval for the Washington Street infrastructure upgrade which, according to the City website also includes part of Spokane Street. Any changes to the “streetscape” should be vetoed at this time.
Separate realistic costs and tabulated benefits should be provided for both possible projects together with a table describing the annual tax increments and total 20-year cost to current residents.
This way, the taxpayers can decide whether one, both or neither projects should be undertaken.
While council is elected to make decisions, certain ones of these are sufficiently large to warrant direct public input.