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SLRD budget ‘doesn't reflect priorities’: Squamish director

Squamish appoints councillors to mediate over regional growth strategy


By Jesse Ferreras and Paul Carlucci
An alternate director for the SLRD says that the current financial plan doesn't reflect its top priorities.
Paul Lalli, an alternate director for the District of Squamish, said at this week's committee of the whole meeting that the SLRD's financial plan for 2009 to 2013, which was presented at the meeting, should focus more clearly on the board's "number one" priorities.
"I just go back to the December priority-setting meeting, I thought quite clearly the number one priority over anything was to look at boundary expansion and to look at governance restructure," he said. "That was the number one priority. I think that was what every single person in the room said they were going to do."
His comments came after Paul Edgington, the SLRD's Chief Administrative Officer, introduced the budget for the regional growth strategy (RGS), a policy framework that's meant to limit urban sprawl. The SLRD board has yet to officially adopt it, largely because Squamish rejected it.
Lalli, speaking at the start of discussions on the budget, said that there's "no budget" for dealing with boundary expansion or governance restructuring. Edgington responded that the budget was prepared in December, before the priority-setting meeting that Lalli mentioned.
Lalli then asked what the priorities of the current budget are, and said that the board needs guidance in terms of how it reflects its priorities in the budget.
Edgington responded by saying that the budget is based on the activities of all the SLRD's departments and that the committee of the whole meeting would provide an opportunity to review and reflect on the allocations presented there.
Though Lalli's initial comments didn't address the RGS directly, they nevertheless sparked some pointed jabs at Squamish for being the only jurisdiction in the SLRD that hasn't approved the strategy.
Squamish rejected the RGS at an early November council meeting, citing a lack of public consultation and clarity over procedure, an unfinished Official Community Plan (OCP), and concern over its amendment process.
Lalli made the RGS a central target in his November election campaign, saying at an all-candidates' meeting that Squamish had the most to lose in the RGS.
At the meeting where the strategy was rejected, Lalli applauded Squamish council for doing so.
Because Squamish didn't endorse the RGS, the SLRD can't adopt it as a policy framework. All jurisdictions must approve it.
Blair Lekstrom, B.C.'s minister of community development, has since written the SLRD advising them to meet with a representative from his ministry to help hash out the issues that Squamish has with the strategy. The SLRD is currently trying to arrange a date for those discussions.
Later in the meeting, Lalli again addressed the budget, this time saying that money should be allocated towards boundary expansion and governance restructuring.
"Because of the situation we're in, can we allocate some of those moneys... towards our number one priority?" he asked. "If it does go smoothly and does get resolved, we're looking at four or five months. Realistically, we're not going to be able to get into the nitty-gritty of regional growth strategies."
Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed pounced on that comment, saying that he "fundamentally disagrees" that money should be allocated out of the RGS budget simply because Squamish rejected it.
"Regardless of the level of agreement on governance as a priority, that doesn't mean it's going to cost us necessarily more," he said.
During a subsequent Squamish meeting, the district appointed Councillors Doug Race and Patricia Heintzman, as well as Mayor Greg Gardner, to deal with the ministry under the auspices of the newly struck Community Development and Planning Committee.
"I think we do need to respect that," said Gardner, "and this is a good way to engage the parties."
Initially, Councillor Corinne Lonsdale took issue with the appointments after framing herself as among the most well versed and fiercely opposed to the RGS.
"I think at one time, I was the only one councillor to have read the whole thing from cover to cover," she said, adding that her concerns over a loss of autonomy should be paramount during mediation. "I have no problem with you representing my concerns, as long as my concerns are carried forward."
Gardner offered to put forward a motion enlisting all of council for mediation, but there was little appetite for that.
Lalli again raised the issue of boundary expansion, saying the RGS should be ignored until a boundary expansion study comes to fruition. For her part, Lonsdale said the RGS should not come ahead of the district's update of the OCP.