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North central local government association to hold convention in Smithers

The North Central Local Government Association will hold their AGM and convention in Smithers on May 13 to 16, and presented an activity update to the PRRD.
The Peace River Regional District board office in Dawson Creek.

The North Central Local Government Association will hold its AGM and convention in Smithers on May 13 to 16, co-hosting the event with the District of Houston and Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako. 

Association president Sheila Boehm met with the Peace River Regional District during its Feb. 22 board meeting, providing an overview on activities and advocacy efforts.

Boehm says she joined the association to help provide a voice for the North, with their jurisdiction covering 70 percent of BC's landmass, and is also home to 60 percent of the province's indigenous population. The association has been around since 1955, and represents 240 elected officials over 40 local governments. 

"It's pretty hard to be the biggest part with sometimes the smallest voice," said Boehm, noting their goal is always to bring common resolutions and concerns forward. 

A mental health and addictions symposium is also being planned for Jun. 27 to 28 in Prince George by the association, inviting stakeholder groups and individuals to take part. The symposium is planned with a North-only focus, added Boehm . 

"Our goal is northern solutions for this. Like, it's different, it's higher, we have some of the highest levels of homelessness and addiction, and opioid, the deaths in Prince George, I think stats in the north are higher than anywhere," Boehm said, noting she hopes to creat dialogue and potentially working groups. 

Pouce Coupe Mayor Danielle Veach asked Boehm if the association is aware of the proposed North Winds treatment centre, which she says is supported by the PRRD board. The centre would have detox units and recovery housing, based in Pouce Coupe. 

Boehm said they're aware of the centre and are in support of it. 

"They're coming on board. It's one of the presentations we have, it's one of the asks we have," said Boehm. "Like, we have done everything we can to help support them and it's one of the hopes out of this symposium is to get that voice, that we've been asking for a northern treatment centre." 

Fort St. John Mayor Lilia Hansen said she appreciates the work of the association and the background information provided with their resolutions, noting her municipality is looking at bringing forward a resolution for the province to reconsider the community safety amendment act. Northeast BC has seen a spike in violent crime, with shootings in Fort St. John. 

"I think until somebody can hear and understand how crime is affecting my community, it might resonate with another community, and I could say 'hey, have you heard about this tool?' You know, if we can get this enacted, this might give another tool in the toolbox," said Hansen, noting she's in support of NCGLA as a region, due to the ability to set extra meetings with provincial ministers. 

As an NCGLA member, District of Chetwynd Mayor Allen Courtoreille said he feels the association brings valuable community spirit. 

"When we go down to UBCM, it's kind of like a business, and sometimes we get drowned out from other communities that do have really serious problems in population and you talked about the mental health and the housing. So, I really love this value of community that you represent, that I represent, because I am a member," said Courtoreille. 

Tumbler Ridge Mayor Darryl Krakowka expressed that PRRD member municipalities already pay membership dues, and asked about flexibility in the association's fees to avoid a 'double dip'. The regional district opted out of membership in 2022 and again in 2023, due to a lack of perceived benefit from participation.

"Our municipality pays into it, and if the regional district was to become a member, obviously I believe that the District of Tumbler Ridge should also be paying into the regional part of that, because we're regional," said Krakowka. "Is there any way of there's a discount? And I'm not just talking for the PRRD, I'm talking about all your regional districts that are on here." 

PRRD membership would be paid out of the electoral areas, and had been from 2006 to 2016 and in 2021. 

Boehm said they have reviewed the fees and fee structure, but said the problem becomes how you break it down to make it more fair, municipalities vs electoral districts. Conceding to one group would have a snowball effect of cutting fees, she explained, noting Prince George pays the highest amount at over $30,000 and has the highest population. 

"It's just really hard, and if you start doing allowances or changes, it's going to be for everybody," she said. "And if you look at the budget, it's not huge. Like, our budget isn't huge for the whole 70 percent of the population and how far. It's not like it's funding a huge amount, it's just funding advocacy, that's literally what we do."

Electoral Area B Director Jordan Kealy said he has concern about association fees, noting taxpayers in his area would pay $6,099 with a new membership. In 2022, a change to the fee structure was proposed, which would slightly decrease the PRRD annual membership fee to $19,069. The PRRD membership fee is calculated based on the population of the electoral areas only.

"I have the biggest cost on here, and when we talk about advocation, I represent people and not my tax assessment. Yet, I'm paying for my tax assessment to try and represent my people. How is this reflected fairly in how advocacy works when really you're just looking at tax assessment values and not the people that are represented?" said Kealy. 

Terry Robert, the association's executive director, said their board and finance committee looked into an equitable model, as there was concern that going by population only wouldn't be equitable across all the members. The regional district hospital assessment value was then factored into the formula as a way to balance, he explained, reflecting access to services. 

"So it considers both. Population and the assessment value, and the assessment value portion currently represents 34 percent of all fees," said Robert. "Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, the Peace River Regional District is one of our members that has a fairly low population value but has the highest, bar none, regional district hospital assessment value." 

Areas with low populations but high assessment value want more emphasis on the population, and areas with higher populations and low assessment value want more emphasis on the assessment value, added Robert. 

"It's about finding that balance across the membership, so that we can maintain both the large and small," he noted, with the board and finance committee open to recommendations on how they can make the formulas more equitable. 

Electoral Area D Director Leonard Hiebert asked if the association has looked at splitting themselves into two associations, as Northeast BC makes up a significant portion of the province, at 120,000 square kilometres just in the Peace Region, and another 60,000 when you include the Northern Rockies. 

"That's just the east side of the province, that's not even talking central or west," said Hiebert, noting he feels it would be more cost-effective and minimize travel. 

Boehm said she somewhat recalls discussion, but the idea fizzled out. Approval through the Union of BC Municipalities might be needed, in addition to funding for a new association, she explained. 

"We don't have a big budget with one to divide that in half again. And then you're getting even less of the finances, you're going to have even less of the people putting in to be that voice," said Boehm, noting she feels it's difficult to keep the current association afloat.