Controversy swirls around the Upper Clearwater Hall

Do the residents of Upper Clearwater want to continue funding the Upper Clearwater Hall?

TNRD officials take part in a public meeting in the Upper Clearwater Hall.

TNRD officials take part in a public meeting in the Upper Clearwater Hall.

Do the residents of Upper Clearwater want to continue funding the Upper Clearwater Hall through their property taxes?

That was the question Carol Schaffer wanted answered during a sometimes stormy public meeting held Wednesday evening, Feb. 4 in the hall.

She had received between 30 and 40 phone messages and emails on the matter, both for and against, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District director for Wells Gray Country (Area A) told the meeting.

To get a clearer picture of what the area residents want, Schaffer is conducting a mail-in survey to gather opinions.

The TNRD provides a financial contribution of $5,000 each year to the Upper Clearwater Farmers Institute, which owns and operates the hall.

That amounts to about $40 per year for the average property assessment in the area of $167,000, said Sukh Gill, the TNRD’s chief administrative officer.

Residential assessments count for 82 per cent of the money raised for the hall. The remainder comes from businesses and farmland.

The survey contains two questions, Gill said.

The first asks if the area residents want the TNRD to collect and pay the $5,000 contribution for 2015.

The second question asks what people want done for 2016 and beyond. It gives three options: one, continue collecting and paying the $5,000 contribution; two, stop collecting for the contribution but keep the taxation service in place for possible future use; or three, go through a legal process to eliminate the contribution and taxation service entirely.

Time was short to decide on the first question, Gill said. The TNRD board will be deciding on its 2015 budget in late March, which is why there is a March 6 deadline to get the surveys in.

If the survey indicates that people want to go with the third option on the second question – to eliminate the tax for the Upper Clearwater hall entirely, that would require one of three legal processes: referendum, petition or alternative process, Gill said.

That was because the taxation service was brought in through a legal process about 10 years ago, he explained.

The survey would not be legally binding, but for information purposes only.

A clear result would allow Schaffer to go to the TNRD board and tell the other board members that this is what the residents of Upper Clearwater want, or don’t want.

Staff at the TNRD will count the survey answers and give the results to Schaffer. The Wells Gray Country director will not see any of the names on the surveys – only the results.

A total of 86 surveys will be sent out – one to each of the property owners in the valley. Those who own more than one property will only get one survey form.

Any surveys not picked up at the meeting will be sent to the property owners’ listed legal address.

The regional district collects taxes to support about a half dozen community halls, Gill said, including those in Vavenby, Blackpool and Little Fort. The money comes from taxes on properties within designated areas surrounding each hall.

The $5,000 contribution is not the only money the Farmers Institute has received through the TNRD. Over the last few years the institute has received about $92,000 in federal gas tax money for upgrades to the hall.

Although the regional district does not directly supervise the projects, it signs the cheques and all money must be properly accounted for.

Gill said that, according to financial reports filed with the regional district, the institute had revenue of about $14,000 in the year up to March 31, 2014. Expenditures were about $8,300, of which the largest expenses were insurance, fuel oil, tools and hydro.

The Farmers Institute had about $16,000 in its bank account at the time.

More than 30 people attended the Upper Clearwater meeting. It was one of three Schaffer held recently to gather input and inform people about what’s going on.

Other meetings were held in Vavenby on Jan. 28 and in Blackpool on Feb. 2.

The Wells Gray Country director plans further meetings for Birch Island and East Blackpool in the spring.