Residents hear information on utilities and housing authority

Construction on a new sewage facility takes place in 2008. | FILE PHOTO


A need for an annual reserve fund and a worsening staff housing crunch have pushed two items to the top of the Sun Peaks municipality’s agenda. Mayor, council and municipal staff held an information session on Saturday, Jan. 14 to discuss the potential purchase of Sun Peaks Utilities Corporation Ltd. (SPUCL) and forming a Sun Peaks Housing Authority (SPHA).

While no decisions had been made on either topic, Mayor Al Raine said he felt it was time to bring them forward to the community.

“These are significant financial decisions and would change considerably what the municipality is doing in the community,” he said.

SPUCL is currently owned and operated by Sun Peaks Resort LLP (SPR) and is responsible for water and wastewater services. As a private company, it was ordered to set aside $80,000 annually for future repairs. A corporate tax would increase this amount significantly.

If the municipality bought the company, benefits for the ratepayers would include access to grant money, better borrowing rates and enforcing tariffs through municipal bylaws.
Disadvantages ranged from uncertainty of expanded municipal administration costs to the condition of the assets and the current lack of reserve funds. KPMG LLP studied the financial feasibility of the purchase and concluded it rested on the success of obtaining grants, which is not guaranteed.

Options for the operation of water utilities favoured contracting current staff on a five year term as opposed to bringing in a third party operator.

Darcy Alexander, general manager of SPR and municipal councillor, explained that due to higher visitation numbers the current water and wastewater systems are just able to handle peak times and will need to be upgraded within two to three years. The first phase is estimated to cost over $100,000.

In the meantime, the municipality has applied for grants that, if approved, could trigger a referendum to purchase SPUCL.

Securing affordable staff housing was also on the agenda. In the fall SPR obtained a three year temporary use permit for temporary staff housing after waitlist numbers soared. One resolution included the establishment of the SPHA.

“Housing is the largest problem at almost every resort destination in North America,” said Alexander, and added that 50 to 150 new beds needed to be created in the next three years.
After studying options, the municipality said it favoured the Whistler model and hoped to build on its successes, which aim for staff to be able to purchase using 30 per cent or less of their income.

The proposed SPHA would operate as a not-for-profit with a board made of representatives from the municipal council, Tourism Sun Peaks, SPR, an independent business representative and a community representative. It would be wholly owned by the municipality and require full-time staff.

Funding would come through government grants, partnerships between private and not-for-profit organizations and the ability to levy charges on new developments to create non-market housing.

“Ideally, developers would be building with five to 10 per cent of units for rental housing,”
said Raine.

Staff would qualify to purchase or rent units based on a points scheme and could only sell the property back to SPHA.

Council acknowledged that even if the authority was set up immediately, the community would still be dealing with the shortage for several years. Other measures such as bylaws placing limits on short-term and monthly rentals may need to be assessed.Council will propose a housing authority resolution at February’s regular council meeting.