Fruit picker

A worker tends to apples in the Happy Valley Harvest orchard in Summerland.

Bountiful farmland is both a blessing and a curse for the District of Summerland.

While having the majority of the district’s land base fall within the Agricultural Land Reserve helps protect the community’s rural nature and food supply, it also limits the amount of taxes the local government can collect on those same farm properties.

“Based on 2021 data, 65% of the district’s land mass is within the province’s Agricultural Land Reserve, however, these properties only contribute $98,350 – or 1% – of the district’s taxation revenues,” finance director David Svetlichny told council at its meeting this week.

“The financial gap is further widened when reviewing the costs associated with servicing these properties,” he continued. “Based on conservative estimates, the cost to provide services to these 386 farms within the ALR is just over $1 million annually – and this does not include capital at all.”

Summerland council flagged the issue last fall and added it to a list of approximately 30 strategic priorities for staff to tackle.

Svetlichny said staff has already approached the B.C. government about the prospect of an equalization program and is awaiting a formal response. Staff has also identified Spallumcheen, Kent and Abbotsford as other communities in a similar position that could become allies.

“It’s long overdue and it’s going to be a long road setting up,” said Coun. Richard Barkwill, “but it’s a good start and we’ve got to keep at it.”

Another priority project that has begun to pick up speed is an overhaul of the development services process, which includes a goal of establishing a three-week turn-around time for building permits.

The work is being guided by a Development Process Improvement Advisory Committee, which includes members of the construction community, and council this week directed staff to apply for a $370,000 grant to purchase new software for development services.