Shawnigan candidates want to look behind the incorporation door

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Shawnigan’s candidates have an appetite for incorporation but before they dig in, discussions on money and boundaries need to take place.

All three Area B director hopefuls, Bruce Fraser, Roy Davies and Ken Cossey agree financial homework has to be filed before reaching out to the community on amalgamation.

Incorporation is both a hefty and hot south-end issue, but one that’s dogged with wrinkles and lingering questions.

Members of the Shawnigan Residents Association are pushing for Shawnigan to incorporate on its own, meanwhile a government funded Phase 1 study has taken a glimpse at meshing Shawnigan, Cobble Hill and Mill Bay, while a Phase 2, to include costs and boundary figures, sits stagnant.

“Living here, what I’d really like to see is Shawnigan be in charge of its own character and not be amalgamated with other places that are fundamentally different, socially and environmentally, but that’s a preference without the numbers,” candidate Bruce Fraser said.

Fraser’s done his homework on the topic.

“There are about 8,600 people living in Shawnigan Lake, give or take, and we’re probably one of the largest regional district areas that’s not incorporated,” he said. “The time is coming when you need more attention paid to the issues of the area, something like a mayor and council and proper municipal status, to be able to give the intensity of attention the area needs.”

The biggest issue on incorporation from citizens, Fraser said, is fear of rising tax costs.

“Probably the most controversial issue people worry about is, ‘My taxes are going to go up if we incorporate like everywhere else that’s done this, and if so, is it going to be worth it?’

“Is it going to be so expensive that it will drive out young families and seniors that couldn’t otherwise live here as a result?”

Davies has come to the same conclusion.

“That’s the answer everybody is looking for,” the family barbershop owner said. “Nobody I’ve talked to so far has been dead-set against incorporation, and said, ‘No, we don’t want that.’

“Having said this, once they understand what it is and the benefits of it, they say ‘This is something we need to look at.’”

Davies is centering his concerns around Shawnigan voter’s feelings on incorporation on its own or with neighbouring buddies, Mill Bay and Cobble Hill.

Another issue, Davies pointed out, is making citizens completely informed about incorporation.

“We need to get information out to the people,” he said. “Right now, a lot of people don’t understand it.”

Fraser and Davies both agree it’s clear there’s a hunger growing for amalgamation.

“People are frustrated saying, ‘When I’m phoning in to get my road plowed, I talk to someone in Victoria who doesn’t even know it’s snowing up here,’” Davies explained.

“There are strong views about the wisdom of incorporating Shawnigan as a municipality,” Fraser, an ecologist by training and ex-educator, government official and consultant, explains on his website. “Concerns are mainly about the balance between being ‘masters in our own house’ and the tax burden that a municipal government might bring.

“They contrast examples of a Langford and a Metchosin as alternative ways of organizing civic amenities, one based on rapid growth and the other based on careful maintenance of a rural lifestyle.

“Most comment on the need for fully transparent information on optional boundaries and their costs before anyone takes action.”

Recently incorporated Metchosin is a good example, Fraser said, but “it’s hard to make a direct comparison.”

“Shawnigan is much more developed,” he explained. “The philosophy is interesting by saying ‘Well, if we incorporate Shawnigan and maybe we didn’t make it include Mill Bay and Cobble Hill, what could we afford to do on a cash as you go basis?’ Could we afford, for instance policing costs and some of the municipal infrastructure and services with the tax base we actually have?”

Incumbent director Ken Cossey couldn’t be reached before press time.

Cossey confirmed, however at the Shawnigan Residents Association hosted Nov. 3 all-candidates’ meeting, he supported incorporation but was along the same lines as Fraser and Davies.

“We need to know more about the boundaries and costs associated with incorporation and that would be part of Phase 2 and then go out to the community,” he said. “From there we can re-group and re-evaluate.”

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