Abbotsford’s FVRD withdrawal draws fire: Peary shoots back at critics

Abbotsford Mayor George Peary shot back at critics of the city's plan to try and leave the Fraser Valley Regional District.

Abbotsford Mayor George Peary shot back at critics of the city’s plan to try and leave the Fraser Valley Regional District.

FVRD chair Patricia Ross issued a press release critical of the move, and inviting Abbotsford council to meet with her board “to explore the city’s concerns about membership in the region.”

“I wonder which side of the table she’ll be sitting on,” Peary said of Ross, who is also an Abbotsford city councillor.

He said Ross receives a $29,000 per year stipend from the FVRD, plus expenses. This is in addition to the $34,700 base pay from the city. He said she is “hardly a disinterested spectator.”

Peary also responded to media reports quoting the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development saying there is no legislative provision to remove a municipality from a regional district, and that Abbotsford cannot become its own regional district.

Peary said the city has already consulted Abbotsford’s MLAs about the issue, and “they are prepared at least to consider our request. They haven’t rejected it out of hand.”

The city also raised the issue of leaving the FVRD with minister Ida Chong directly, and she too has not dismissed the idea.

“It requires a legislative amendment. That’s why we’re talking to the politicians and not the bureaucrats,” he said. “There are legislative precedents to allow this to happen.”

On Nov. 7 council voted 8-1 to ask Victoria for permission to become a single-tier government. Ross was the lone dissenting voice.

A city staff report said the city could save $759,000 per year by leaving the FVRD.

“Our motive is what is the best value for our taxpayers,” said Peary.

He added that governments, like the FVRD which was formed in 1995, take on a life of their own.

“They start adding staff, going out and looking for things to do.”

Ross said the city should be careful what it wishes for, and the city could leave the FVRD only to have Victoria place it within the Metro Regional District.

In that scenario, she said tax bills would increase, and Abbotsford would have little influence at the Metro table.

“We would be such a small voice…”

In the press release, Ross said the FVRD did not receive the latest report Abbotsford used to conclude it could get a better deal leaving the region, and that report was based on flawed information

“The FVRD is a frugal organization,” said the release. “In 2010, FVRD staff conducted a review of the contributions of each member municipality and electoral area and reduced Abbotsford’s contribution by more than $715,000. The average Abbotsford household pays $29.04 annually, or $2.42 a month, which is good value for all the services and benefits we receive.”

A partial list of services provided by the FVRD in Abbotsford includes 911 emergency service, regional fire dispatch, solid waste management, noxious weed control, mosquito control, data collection on homelessness, transportation, agriculture and many other topics, and liaison with the Province in the planning of its services for the region.

“It would make sense for the city to bring its concerns into a constructive dialogue with the FVRD, rather than taking a confrontational approach,” she said. “The city has also not been clear as to why it should be exempt from rules that apply to other members of a regional district.”

Peary was adamant Abbotsford will not be part of Metro as long as he is mayor.

“That’s fear-mongering. We have no intention of joining Metro,” he responded. “That’s not in the cards.”

He said the FVRD provides “precious little in the way of services,” and those could be replaced.

“We can go shopping for arrangements that are more beneficial to our taxpayers.”

He said following Saturday’s election, the new leadership at city hall will plan meetings with government officials in Victoria in January. If re-elected, he would arrange to meet with Chong and local MLAs to discuss the issue, and hopefully secure an answer by February.

“Otherwise, we’ll continue to agitate for changes from within (the FVRD).”