Sorrento and Blind Bay voters are deciding whether they want to merge and become B.C.'s newest municipality

·3 min read
Darryl Chipman, who has lived in Blind Bay, B.C., since 2004, says he doesn't want to see a merger of his hometown with the neighbouring community of Sorrento.  (Doug Herbert/CBC - image credit)
Darryl Chipman, who has lived in Blind Bay, B.C., since 2004, says he doesn't want to see a merger of his hometown with the neighbouring community of Sorrento. (Doug Herbert/CBC - image credit)

Darryl Chipman has lived in Blind Bay, B.C., for almost two decades. He says he loves the small rural community as it is, and he doesn't want to see it merge with neighbouring town Sorrento.

"The communities, as they were set up, were not designed or even envisioned to be a municipality," Chipman told CBC's Doug Herbert. "People just want to live their lives, not be concerned with over-government and higher taxes."

Chipman and nearly 3,000 other residents in Blind Bay and Sorrento, both about 86 kilometres northeast of Kamloops, will be eligible to vote in a referendum on April 30, organized by the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, and decide whether the two towns should be incorporated as a municipality called District of Sorrento-Blind Bay.

The district also allows residents to go to advance polls on Wednesday, or vote by mail by the election day. They must have lived or owned a property in Blind Bay or Sorrento for at least 30 days before voting.

Incorporation means higher taxes

Last month, the district board of directors unanimously approved the decision to hold a plebiscite, after reviewing the incorporation study report it had commissioned with endorsement from B.C.'s Ministry of Municipal Affairs in February 2019.

Latest census data shows that the combined population of Blind Bay (1,576) and Sorrento (1,309) jumped more than 10 per cent over the past five years, compared to a 12.6 per cent increase during the same period in the district's electoral area C, which the two communities are currently part of.

Doug Herbert/CBC
Doug Herbert/CBC

Electoral area C director Paul Demenok, who also oversees communities including Eagle Bay, Shuswap Lake Estates and Sunnybrae, says if the majority of referendum voters favour incorporation of Blind Bay and Sorrento, the district would propose a mayor and six councillors for what could be the province's 162nd municipality.

The district's study report estimates most Blind Bay and Sorrento homeowners would be paying somewhere between $300 and $600 more each year if incorporated, because of not only increased services and higher policing costs, but also the need to lease space for a municipal hall, and the need to create a long-term reserve for capital works projects.

More provincial grants

Demenok admits Sorrento-Blind Bay residents may see a heftier tax bill, but he asks them to also see the positive side of being part of a new municipality that enjoys more autonomy than being unincorporated under the regional district governance.

"The biggest one is … local decision making and therefore better decisions, because they're made by locals rather than people [from the regional district] who do not live here," he said.

Doug Herbert/CBC
Doug Herbert/CBC

Demenok says the new municipality could qualify for more provincial grants than electoral areas, citing the incorporation of Clearwater, B.C., as a municipality in December 2007.

The District of Clearwater says it received a total of $15.3 million in provincial grants during the 10 years following the incorporation, which were spent on capital projects and job creation.

But Chipman says he and many other Blind Bay residents he has talked to aren't impressed — they just want to be left alone living their idyllic lives.

"People just want to live their lives, enjoy the golf course, enjoy the lake and everything else," he said. "I do believe that this area is just not ready for incorporation at this point in time."

How to vote

Advance voting will take place Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the regional district office at 555 Harbourfront Drive N.E. in Salmon Arm, and Shuswap Lake Estates Hall at 2405 Centennial Drive in Blind Bay.

General voting on April 30 will be held from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Sorrento Memorial Hall at 1150 Passchendaele Road, and the Blind Bay Memorial Hall at 2510 Blind Bay Road.

Mail-in ballots must be received by the district's chief election officer in the district office no later than 8 p.m. on the election day.

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