Okanagan Falls could become the “governance capital” of the region, one of the community’s elected officials argued this week in response to a suggestion that Penticton is the natural home for a new municipal building.
Both the City of Penticton and Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen are headquartered in aging, downtown buildings that are across the street from each other and have simply become too small for their respective occupants.
Planning for its future office requirements has now become a priority for the city, so it offered to commission a feasibility study into the possibility of the two local governments sharing a new building.
The offer, while accepted by a 17-2 vote of the RDOS board, still got a chilly reception from some rural directors, who seemed concerned Penticton had become the de facto headquarters of the regional government, which has 10,400 square kilometres and 85,000 people within its jurisdiction.
“I am really hesitant to just assume that joint space with the City of Penticton is the way to go,” said Subrina Monteith, the director for Area I (Skaha West/Kaleden/Apex).
“I think there’s lots of options and we need consider all the options to be fair to our taxpayers.”
One of those options could be relocating to the nearby community of Okanagan Falls, according to Ron Obirek, the director for Area D (Skaha East/OK Falls).
“We have space in OK Falls. I don’t know if the City of Penticton would like to look at relocating to OK Falls. I would invite all municipalities to do the same consideration. We could become the governance capital of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen,” said Obirek.
“We have a lot to offer, and I think we’re doing our electoral areas a disservice if we are not giving those options fair and proper consideration.”
Other directors suggested the RDOS would be foolish to pass up a no-obligation offer to see if Penticton is a good fit.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity. I have no idea where all these concerns are coming from,” said Keremeos Mayor Manfred Bauer.
“We’re just looking at what co-location could look like – and it’s for free. What the heck?”
Osoyoos Mayor Sue McKortoff suggested new municipal buildings could be a hard sell in other communities – including hers – even if they’re badly needed.
“I would think if you asked any of our residents, they’d probably prefer us to build an indoor pool than a new town hall, but (town hall) is literally falling down,” said McKortoff.
“Let’s take this opportunity to look and see what Penticton has to offer. We don’t have to buy it. We don’t have to join in. All we have to do is look at it, and further down the road we can look at how we want to proceed.”
Penticton city hall at 171 Main St. contains 17,000 square feet over two floors, and was built in 1966.
RDOS headquarters at 101 Martin St. was built in 1981 and features 11,000 square feet on one floor. The organization spent approximately $500,000 on renovations in 2015-16, but no new space was added.
“While serving the regional district well over the years, the facility has deteriorated and will require additional investment if the organization intends to stay in this location over the longer term,” CAO Bill Newell wrote in his report to the board.
“Over the past few years, the organization has experimented with satellite office space, working from home, rotating staff in and out of the office and other diversionary measures. Additional space is needed.”
Newell said after the meeting he’s unaware of any other regional districts in B.C. that share office space with neighbouring local governments.