Voters will be asked if they are happy with the amount of money the provincial body is charging the municipality
There will be an additional question on the October municipal election ballot regarding Bowen’s future relationship with the Islands Trust.
The question – officially dubbed an opinion poll – is not whether Bowen Island should remain a member of the group. Rather, the question is whether the municipality (BIM) should renegotiate the tax formula that commits Bowen to payments now exceeding $320,000 a year to the provincial organization.
The Bowen Island Municipal Property Tax is a unique funding source of Islands Trust which raises funds from the BIM based on assessed values of buildings and properties on the island. The Trust has increased Bowen’s contribution by 4% this year, bringing the municipality’s total bill for 2022/23 to $323,769.
General manager Liam Edwards says the formula – which hasn’t been updated since 1999 – is outdated and unfair to Bowen. “The requisition form was changed when Bowen Island became a municipality to recognize municipal government. At that time, I don’t think anyone considered the degree of autonomy and independence that an island municipality would have from the Trust itself.
“So the requisition sections of the law really speak to the municipality which still contributes to the basic running of the administration of the Trust in the same way as any other island would. However, I think BIM demonstrated a higher degree of independence and autonomy,” Edwards added.
Edwards says BIM is getting much better value per dollar from Metro Vancouver’s tax requisition — less than half of Trust’s requisition — especially from the work of Metro Parks. Mayor Gary Ander added that he even felt BIM’s tax contribution to Translink was more helpful because of the services islanders use while on the mainland.
No municipal will to leave Islands Trust
Com. Michael Kaile, also a trustee of the Islands Trust, introduced the motion at the last board meeting. He said he wanted to be clear on the question focused specifically on the tax formula, and not turn into a debate about Bowen’s continued membership in the group. Islands Trust has received significant negative public comment – both on Bowen and on other member islands – in recent inquiries into its budget and policy statement.
“Quite frankly there have been some pretty mean and bitter things said about Islands Trust. We are part of this federation; we are working hard on a lot of changes, working hard on new directions,” Kaile said.
“We have to say very clearly that no, we’re not going to let this…and it’s (the question) is going to be absolutely targeted and directed.”
In fact, BIM has indicated that it plans to support Islands Trust as part of the organization’s upcoming campaign with the provincial government for more funding. Edwards says funding for the Trust has been neglected by Victoria.
“The other element that is unfair…is that the provincial contribution to the administration of the Islands Trust has never been increased since its inception,” Edwards said. He added that this is particularly inappropriate because the Trust is a provincial organization, making its employees provincial employees.
Com. Sue Ellen Fast then submitted figures showing not only that the provincial contribution had not increased, but rather that it had fallen sharply since the creation of the organization. In 1994-95, Islands Trust received $469,000 from the province. Today, that figure is $180,000.
The presence of the opinion poll in the municipal elections debated
Advisors agreed that a review of Bowen’s tax formula was necessary. But many of them worried about the prospect of linking the issue to the municipal election.
“I think it would be really polarizing at election time,” Fast said. “At the time of the national park question, I think the referendum was detrimental to our community because it polarized people’s ideas about what was happening on Bowen Island.”
Residents of Bowen narrowly voted against the creation of the Bowen Islands National Park Reserve in 2011, with 55% of voters opposing the project. Residents at the time said they were worried about ferry congestion and park fees. Parks Canada dropped the idea after the referendum.
“There was a lot of discussion that could have been helpful, and constructive discussion kind of led to a ‘them and us’ side of things,” Fast recalled of the park debate.
“I have the same concerns about having the issue at the same time as the election. I think the threat of encouraging division is very real when it comes to talking about the Islands Trust and their relationship ( with Bowen),” said Councilman Maureen Nicholson. “I appreciate that we need to have this conversation about the annual tax requisition, I just don’t support this resolution and this process.”
Com. David Hocking added his voice to timing fears. “What people do with information isn’t always information-based, it’s trigger-based. And I’m very worried about doing that in elections as well,” he said. declared.
“I agree, however, that we should. And I agree that we need to give our negotiators ammunition,” Hocking said.
A viable alternative, however, proved difficult to find. Hiring external consultants would take longer and cost more, and would require greater staff involvement in the process. After the discussion did not result in another approach, councilors reverted to the original Election Day suggestion.
“It’s the most effective way to get an opinion poll on this issue,” Ander said.
Edwards says: “The opinion poll lends weight to the position we would take – if in favour. And the province would prefer to have that.
“If it’s to get some political traction, I think it’s very important that the island (Bowen) somehow indicates the strength of sentiment on this topic,” Kaile concluded. “I think it’s important that the people in charge of (renegotiating) know what degree of support this is going to get on the island.”
The Council voted 5-2 to include the opinion poll in the October 15 ballot. Councilors Fast and Nicholson were in opposition.