Abbotsford council has decided to leave the Fraser Valley Regional District. The question is, will it be allowed to?
Council voted 8-1 in favour of asking the provincial government for permission to become a single tier governance. It's a move that, according to a staff report, could save the city close to $759,000 a year.
In 2010, Abbotsford contributed just over $3 million to the FVRD (about half the collected funding for services). After hearing
the city’s concerns regarding costs and benefits, the FVRD reduced the amount by $720,000 in 2011. However, an estimated increase of $100,000 in garbage tipping fees, and 911 and fire call answering levies, reduced the savings to about $620,000.
The city’s report said Abbotsford could provide all the services presently done by the FVRD, at a cost of just $1.64 million.
Services include 911 and fire dispatch, as well as weed and mosquito control, regional development, solid waste management, and fiscal services.
“The motive is trying to get the best value for our tax dollars,” said Abbotsford Mayor George Peary. “We believe that there will be a savings, and that in fact we can become our own regional district and basically eliminate one layer of government.”
Coun. Patricia Ross, who is also the chair of the FVRD, was the lone voice against the move, saying the regional district is an important partner that Abbotsford should not dismiss so easily. She called the staff report – and a second report on municipal governance, performed for the city by Harry Kitchen of Trent University – flawed.
Ross said no one “had an actual conversation” with the regional district when creating the reports, and that it costs the average Abbotsford household just $2.42 a month for all the FVRD services.
“I cannot see us possibly saving ... when all is said and done, this will cost us more,” said Ross.
And she felt there was more to lose than just money. Ross said the city will lose its lobbying power if it leaves the larger FVRD and could lose its high financial rating with the Municipal Financing Authority, which lends money to local governments.
If the city is allowed to leave the FVRD, it will likely take some debt with it.
Abbotsford is currently part of the Fraser Valley Regional Hospital District. If the city were to form its own regional hospital district, it would have to take on $28 million in debt (approximately 49 per cent of the FVRHD’s current $58 million debt). Financing this, according to the staff report, would be about the same amount as it currently pays to the regional hospital district.
Further discussions will be needed with the Fraser Health Authority to determine any cost sharing for services as the Abbotsford Regional Hospital serves residents outside of Abbotsford.
The decision to move forward on the plan, which was presented by city manager Frank Pizzuto, comes just 12 days before the municipal election.
The subject was not on Monday night’s meeting agenda. Pizzuto said council discussed it in an earlier meeting that day, and decided to bring it forward to the general public session.
While the vote means the city can formally request permission to leave the FVRD, it doesn’t mean council can’t change its mind.
“If the provincial government approves, there will be a process that they will establish ... it may come back to council, once we know the terms and conditions. I don’t think it’s ever too late to abort if we decide that we don’t want to proceed,” said Peary.
Currently, the FVRD consists of six municipalities – Abbotsford, Mission, Chilliwack, Hope, Kent and Harrison - and eight electoral areas.