Council moves forward with incorporating West Fernie into the city
Fernie council has initiated a boundary extension process that will incorporate West Fernie into the city if they receive the consent of West Fernie property owners. The city is working with the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) on a possible five year term transition to bring properties in the extension area up to the full municipal tax rate.
“There’s a lot more to do and there’s things that need to happen, both with respect to this and beyond it, but the fact that we’re having this discussion and making this resolution right now has a very significant place in Fernie’s history,” commented Councillor Randal Macnair. “If we, and [Area A] Director Sosnowski, can bring this forward with the residents of West Fernie, because certainly, we’re one community, and this reflects that, we’re all stronger as a result.”
Following last year's Union of BC Municipalities' conference, several discussions took place between city of Fernie staff, RDEK staff, and members of the Minister's staff regarding the potential boundary extension. On December 9, 2013, a letter was sent by Lee-Ann Crane, Chief Administrative Officer with the RDEK, to Marijke Edmondson, director of local government structure with the Ministry of Community, Sport, and Cultural Development, asking the Ministry to provide a detailed offer of restructure assistance to help Fernie council move forward with a decision to incorporate West Fernie. On March 6, 2014, Fernie Mayor Mary Giuliano and Area A Director Mike Sosnowski received a response from Minister Coralee Oakes. The letter stated it was the Minister's understanding that the restructuring will ultimately bring the entire area of West Fernie into the city, the infrastructure upgrades will precede boundary change, and the implementation will take place in phases over a number of years.
The letter went on to specify that the RDEK will establish a water and sewer service area in West Fernie by petition, which will replace the West Fernie Waterworks District. The RDEK will undertake borrowing to upgrade the infrastructure, and only once the upgrades are complete will the area be incorporated into the city.
The Minister made an offer for restructure assistance that includes: a Municipal Restructure Assistance (per capita) Grant of $347,500; a Restructure Implementation Grant to convert the West Fernie Waterworks District of $20,000; a Restructure Implementation Grant to update land use bylaws of $50,000; and a Provincial Rural Property Tax Transfer of $36,745.
Bringing West Fernie residents into the city will likely raise the population above 5,000, which will require Fernie to pay for policing costs. With the current offer, the Ministry of Justice has agreed if the population of the city is under 5,000 in the 2016 census, the population will not be reevaluated again until the 2021 census, regardless of the boundary changes that would be made after census day in May 2016.
The letter also indicates the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure generally continue to maintain local roads through its existing maintenance contract until the end of the five year transition period or until the maintenance contract ends.
Moving forward, the RDEK will inform West Fernie property owners of the city's intention to take them into the city and what the impact will be. If consent from the area residents is received, the city will develop a boundary extension proposal and submit it to the Ministry for consideration. At this point, the city's electorate would be informed of the intention and impacts of incorporating West Fernie and asked for approval. If the city's electorate reject the proposal, the boundary extension would not continue. However, if the electorate approves the proposal, the boundary extension will be brought forward for cabinet's consideration.
More information on the West Fernie boundary extension can be found in the regular council meeting agenda for May 12, viewable on the city of Fernie website at www.fernie.ca.