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Grant money goes down the drain

December 21, 2010

[I have not had much occasion in the past to agree with Mr. Walker (global warming, diagnosis of the SOEC's woes) but I do agree with the basic thesis of this editorial: The recent West Bench water referendum was a significant economic setback for the City of Penticton.]

The residents of West Bench threw another monkey wrench into Penticton council’s plans.

The city, doing everything it can to avoid addressing the consequences of years of wanton spending, had hoped to scoop up regional district and provincial grant money garnered by West Bench. The city no doubt expected to use this money to help pay for the sweetheart deals offered to developers in the proposed Columbia Heights/Upper Carmi infrastructure deals.

The city has already taken advantage of provincial largess, getting an additional $10.6 million for the water treatment facility by agreeing to include a “bio-gas” generation facility — using tax money to produce electricity from effluent at a whopping 77 times what the city’s own electricity utility charges for clean hydro electricity. Government in action.

Adding insult to injury, after confiscating the West Bench grant money, the city offered West Bench residents the opportunity to pay 10 per cent over and above the market rate for water that other consumers within the City of Penticton pay.

At the end of the day, had the residents of West Bench approved the city’s questionable offer, the West Benchers could sleep well at night, knowing they had made a noble sacrifice, subsidizing infrastructure and water treatment for the rest of Penticton, including infrastructure in future “extra-territorial” developments.  These new service areas are in many respects identical to the West Bench — but immune from the surcharge —and will have services provided by the city at taxpayer expense.

The city and the West Bench Irrigation District each deny the end-game is the amalgamation of the West Bench and the city, but it is hard to imagine any other outcome had the proposal passed. West Bench residents enjoy the lower taxes of the RDOS, and for the most part do not expect the same level of services their neighbours in the city receive. Exploring an arrangement with the City of Penticton to provide water was a reasonable course of action for West Bench.  Rejecting the city’s proposal was also a reasonable course of action.

The city made a tactical error by believing that the West Bench would have no option but to come hat-in-hand to the city for water. By rejecting the city’s proposal, the West Bench has denied the city access to a nice lump of cash, and a never-ending cash flow with which to subsidize projects that benefit real estate developers and residents in new areas that the city can ill afford to service.

Mayor Dan Ashton, commenting on the result, fell back to the usual political excuse when an ill-conceived plan is recognized by voters for what it is. Apparently, communication was the challenge, and if only the issues had been better communicated, different outcomes would be assured.  This line of logic always begs the question of which side didn’t “get it”.  Clearly the residents of West Bench “got it”, and recognize a bad deal when they see it.

West Bench residents are to be congratulated for calling the city’s bluff, and should move forward with plans to upgrade their water services. The city should review its stance on provision of limited services to West Bench — a reasonable offer to West Bench would broaden the water customer base and help defray capital costs for all, and allow the city access to additional grant monies it apparently badly needs.

Mark Walker is the publisher of the Penticton Western News.


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