Election 2014: Council size referendum not binding

District of Hope: Voters are being asked whether they are in favour of reducing the number of Hope councillors from six to four

Voters may have a say on the future size of council this fall, but the results of the upcoming referendum are not binding.

Council unanimously voted in April to ask residents whether they are in favour of reducing the number of councillors from six to four during the Nov. 15 municipal election.

According to  section 83 of the Community Charter, a council may seek community opinion on a question that council believes affects the municipality, by voting or any other process the council considers appropriate. However, the results of a process under this section are not binding on the council.

“With that said, the size of council is established by letters patent or bylaw,” said Donna Bellingham, director of corporate services. “So as we move through the process with the bylaw, if at the end of the day council decides to leave council at six councillors they do not have to adopt the bylaw.”

Despite personal opposition to cutting councillors, a council reduction bylaw was given two readings on Monday night.

Mayor Susan Johnston and Coun. Gerry Dyble support getting feedback from the electorate, but believe it’s not wise to change the size of council given the population and economic development growth expected in the future.

“Personally my feeling is that we’re sending a message out to the public, to the community and to the region that we’re taking a step backwards when we want to be going forward,” said Dyble.

Coun. Ron Smith and Coun. Donna Kropp also raised concerns about fair representation given the geographical size of the district.

“The moment we reduce (council), we will be hamstrung to represent the community appropriately,” said Smith. “We need to be front and centre as this municipality grows and we are held more accountable by various levels of government.”

In addition, Kropp questioned if a reduction in council size would be a cost savings measure in the long run. Currently, councillors earn $8,000 a year.

“I’m not sure what the benefit would really be,” she said. “When people have more work to do, do they do it more efficiently, especially if they have a full-time job for example? Could they go outside of their work, spread themselves a lot thinner and do a lot for the community, but maybe not as well as they could if there was more of them to do it? I’m concerned about that.”

Based on Hope’s population of 6,185, the current number of councillors is in line with comparable municipalities. For example, Merritt (6,998), Kimberley (6,139) and Smithers (5,217) all have six councillors while smaller communities like Gibsons (4,182), Kent (4,738), and Metchosin (4,795) have four.

Council will give third reading to the bylaw on Sept. 8 and pass a resolution to establish the question on November’s ballot. Following the municipal election on Nov. 15, the newly elected council will consider adoption of the bylaw. Any change would take effect for 2018 municipal election.

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