By Carole Rooney
Cariboo Regional District (CRD) chair Al Richmond passed on the baton of leadership to the new president of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) at the annual conference in Victoria, Sept. 26-30.
In reflecting on his year at the helm, Richmond says UBCM looked at 170 passed resolutions from the 2015 UBCM conference, many of which factored into convincing the provincial government to implement about 75 policy and program changes.
“For example, there was more money advocated for wildfire … one of the resolutions that was there was for more wildfire programs, so we are able to reduce the fuel loading in the areas around communities.
“We were also successful – and probably the biggest one we were working on – when we worked with the federal government to increase its share of infrastructure funding [to] 50 per cent, and the province has agreed [to] continue to fund one-third of those projects. So, that means instead of having a one-third … share that we had on some projects in the past, local governments will now have to come up with 17 per cent, which is a huge improvement.”
Noting some local governments in other provinces found their provincial share reduced to a one-quarter share, or even no contribution, the past president says he gives kudos to both levels of governments for agreeing to these contributions.
Another of the more important accomplishments was removing responsibility for rural fire department inspections (costs) from local governments, he adds.
Richmond notes less progress was seen on some of the past year’s lobby efforts, but he remains hopeful for the future of some of these other issues under the new UBCM executive.
“We weren’t as successful with … the downloading of DNA [crime investigation testing fees] to local governments, so we had some huge issues about the shifting policing costs.
“[Local governments] didn’t know this was coming, and suddenly in October last year, our members got bills for the DNA testing that were done in their regions in the previous year … they ranged from about $5,000 to maybe $700,000, depending on what size of community you are in and how much testing was done.”
Like many other issues brought forward, Richmond says he made plenty of phone calls and wrote many letters on behalf of the UBCM and its members, and also met with Justice Minister Suzanne Anton and Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Morris in their attempts to effect a change on this – but his efforts weren’t entirely fruitless.
“We’ve had more discussions on [future policing] costs and how that might be handled … and we were able to move things forward on some up-and-coming issues – so that’s positive.”
Looking ahead, Richmond says he will assist the new executive in continuing to push the provincial government to implement the recommendations in UBCM’s Strong Fiscal Futures report back in 2013, including its call to look for new sources of revenue.
“More importantly, it is to sit down and talk about the expenditures and revenues that are available to local governments, as we have many things that continue to drive costs….”
There is only one taxpayer, so any downloading of costs or removal of services provided to the municipalities and regional districts by the province need to be closely examined, he explains.
“We would have liked to have seen them sit down and engage more fully on those issues.
“We’ve also been pushing to look at arbitration [settlements] in the protective services sector because … they just escalate right out of hand and we have no control over arbitrators.”
Rural communities can’t always afford to pay what a metropolitan area does for police or firefighter wages, where the risks – and the cost of living – can be quite different, so this should be examined and considered, he explains.
After serving eight years on the UBCM executive, Richmond will continue this year in the role of past-president, and was awarded a UBCM lifetime membership in honour of his term as its president.