Notes from the Cache Creek council meeting of Dec. 6.
Health care delegation
Donna Monford and Jacquie McMahon of the Health Care and Wellness Coalition (HAWC) made a presentation noting the deterioration of health care services in the area in recent years, and the increasing demands on Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. Monford noted the recent loss of services in Lytton and Merritt, and stressed the need for expanding emergency department care in the Ashcroft area to a seven-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year service. The importance of a local health care board was also stressed, to prevent further deterioration of services.
HAWC is asking for letters of support from the local governments and First Nations in the region, and will be carrying out focus group conversations about health care. The results of these conversations will be shared with Interior Health to help build a health care model specifically for the Ashcroft catchment area.
Vicky Trill of the Ashcroft HUB gave a presentation showing what happened at the HUB in 2021, noting the impacts of this year’s heat dome and fires, as well as the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. She also said that School District No. 74 has agreed to sell the HUB property (the former Ashcroft Elementary School) to the HUB Society for a nominal fee.
While the HUB Society is pleased with this outcome, Trill noted that it will make the society responsible for a number of things they do not currently have to fund. Trill said the society is now looking to build stronger partnerships with other area stakeholders as they move forward.
Council gave first three readings to the 2022 Utility Rates Bylaw, which for the second year in a row will see an increase of 25 per cent in utility rates (water, sewer, and gabage).
Chief Financial Officer Cristina Martini said that even this increase will not cover the expenditures that have been budgeted for in 2022. The increase will translate to an annual incremental increase of $177 per residence ($14.75 per month, or 48 cents per day). Total daily residential utility charges will increase to $2.42 per day for water, sewer, and garbage.
She noted that the village is facing constraints such as outdated infrastructure which is 50+ years old and could fail, as well as a past reliance on external sources of revenue to fund water, sewer, and garbage rather than collecting enough fees for those services to create enough revenue to sustain them. She also pointed out that the village has almost no reserves set aside for water, sewer, and garbage. “If something crashes — something unexpected we didn’t budget for happens — we do not have enough reserves to cover it.” The village currently has water reserves of $77,000, approximately $15,000 in sewer reserves, and no reserve fund for garbage.
Martini and Chief Administrative Officer Damian Couture spoke of the lack of inventory on hand and the often six- to eight-month wait to obtain a replacement part, a problem which Couture noted has been ongoing for some time. Martini noted steep increases in utility prices, insurance, fuel, and other outside costs, as well as the cost of increased water consumption by residents in 2021.
Council repealed two policies dealing with village snow clearing on sidewalks and streets, and approved a new policy dealing with the same subjects. Couture explained that the two repealed policies were not “ bad” policies, but that recent case law in other places in B.C. has caused issues with snow clearing policies in terms of municipalities being on the receiving end of some “pretty heavy” litigation.
The new policy is based on information provided by the Municipal Insurance Association of B.C. A significant change is that while the village crew will continue to clear all roads and streets of snow, and clear the sidewalks in front of municipally-owned buildings, the policy states that residents and business owners will be responsible for cleaning snow off the sidewalks outside their own properties.
Couture explained that while the old policies never said that the village would be responsible for all sidewalk clearing, it was something that had happened over time, and that this was not common practice in any other municipalities. He also said that given the financial constraints faced by the village, and the potential for liability, it was a practice that should be discontinued. “If we are regularly plowing everybody’s sidewalks and something suddenly happens it opens us up to litigation.”
Coun. Sue Peters asked about empty lots and buildings, and whether the village would clear those sidewalks and then bill the owners. Couture replied that the sidewalks were the responsibility of the property owner, and said there were a number of ways of dealing with snow clearing that could be investigated.
Assistance for other communities
The village has been accepting donations to help the City of Merritt, with tax receipts available for donations of $20 or more. Coun. Wendy Coomber asked why the donations were for Merritt, and not Spences Bridge, which is closer.
Mayor Santo Talarico proposed a motion stating that the village would match donations up to $1,000, with donations to benefit both Merritt and Spences Bridge. The motion passed.