PENTICTON - The South Okanagan Similkameen conservation program manager approached the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen board of directors Thursday, seeking $65,000 to investigate the development of a conservation fund for the regional district.
Bryn White described a regional district conservation fund as “a dedicated source of funding for organizations to work together to conserve in the region and build a legacy to benefit future generations."
The idea of a conservation fund at the regional district level came about during a presentation to the board by White in July, 2014, at which time it was approved in principle. The board at that time decided to wait until after last fall’s municipal election to move ahead with the fund.
White said the goal of the fund is to raise between $250,000 and $500,000 each year on a region-wide basis. Managed locally, White said the fund would be able to leverage significant resources from elsewhere to fund conservation projects managed locally.
The money White was seeking is anticipated to be the cost of getting a conservation fund bylaw established. Public approval would be required through the Alternate Approval Process or a referendum held throughout the regional district.
White told the board the SOSCP had $10,000 earmarked to begin the public consultation process. She said past polling indicated pro-conservation attitudes were deeply held by the public, with 86 per cent of residents in support of a dedicated conservation fund.
“We’re hoping for some kind of financial commitment,’ she said.
She also said there was soft support for a levy, with most opinion supporting a $10 -$20 tax increase to support a conservation fund.
White outlined a three phase approach aimed at establishing the fund and collecting of public input that would be implemented over the course of 2015. Support for White’s request amongst board members varied.
Keremeos Director Manfred Bauer said he couldn’t support the fund because it would have limited use in the Village of Keremeos, where the only piece of riparian land is already a preserve.
Electoral Area “D” Director Tom Siddon worried about the effect the request would have on taxpayers, noting it would have been more helpful to have been on the budget two weeks ago.
West Bench Director Michael Brydon noted taxpayers often approved of conservation in principle, but often had second thoughts when it came to paying for it.
The board agreed to fund a lesser amount of $55,000, to be used to assess public support for the development of a regional conservation fund. The 2015 budget will require an amendment prior to final board approval.