The Union Bay Improvement District (UBID) is an independent local government that provides street lighting, fire protection and water supply and distribution to property owners in Union Bay. In August and September 2019, UBID and the Province of BC exchanged correspondence that lead to a Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) Board resolution to partner with UBID and the Province to undertake a study that would:
- conduct a condition assessment of Union Bay Improvement District assets and liabilities;
- analyze the governance options to remain as an improvement district or convert the street lighting, water supply and distribution and fire protection services to regional district services; and
- develop and execute a communication plan that:
- assesses public perspective on the topic of Union Bay governance and service delivery; and
- informs the public on potential outcomes from the assessment and governance models
Early in 2020 Urban Systems was selected to undertake the study work in partnership with the CVRD and UBID. This included public engagement with property owners in Union Bay. This engagement happened by way of two information sessions; one virtual and one in person on October 15th and 20th. The report was finalized following the information sessions and is now available for reivew.
The live stream event happened on October 15th.
UBID will be holding a referendum on November 28th to determine conversion or not. Visit www.ubid.ca for more information.
The study explores the implications of the potential conversion of existing UBID services – specifically water, fire protection and street lighting – to the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD). Two potential governance options were reviewed for consideration by UBID ratepayers: (a) convert UBID services to CVRD local services, and (b) remain as an improvement district.
Funding for the study was provided to the CVRD by the provincial Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (the Ministry). During the project, some additional funding was provided by the Ministry to undertake a high-level infrastructure assessment of the water system.
The consultant (Urban Systems) worked closely with UBID and CVRD staff to obtain background information, conduct site tours and field investigations, and analyze the data to assess the financial and other impacts. Throughout the study, an Advisory Working Group comprised of staff and elected officials from both UBID and CVRD as well as Ministry staff provided support and guidance to the consulting team.
UBID initially advised the Province that it wanted to study three outcomes: becoming a municipality, converting to CVRD services and continuing as an improvement district. The Province advised that it would only support a study to explore conversion to the CVRD or continuing as an improvement district. If conversion to CVRD does occur, then it could potentially be a ‘stepping stone’ towards municipal incorporation further into the future.
Some of the main advantages include: access to a larger pool of expertise (e.g. engineering, planning, finance and administration), access to senior government grants (provincial and federal), and financing through the Municipal Finance Authority (MFA).
Disadvantages include the loss of local representation from the dissolution of the UBID Board of Trustees (representation would still be provided through the Electoral Area ‘A’ Director), and shifting the location of administration services from Union Bay to the CVRD offices in Courtenay.
The consultant worked with CVRD and UBID staff to review the potential costs for conversion to the Regional District, and determined that the “apples to apples” impacts of conversion is estimated to be cost neutral, with a potential cost savings depending on overall labour costs. Cost savings include deleting the expenditures for UBID Trustees, leasing and operations costs of the UBID Administration office, and salary and benefits for the UBID Administrator. This is offset by additional CVRD support services costs of approximately 4-5% of total expenditures for each service category (water, fire protection, and street lighting) as well as increased costs for the new water treatment plant and union collective agreement.
There will be additional costs under either option including: additional operating costs for the new water treatment plant (commissioned in Spring 2020), additional labour costs due to the new union collective agreement (currently under negotiation), and costs for infrastructure renewal and replacement as part of a comprehensive Asset Management Plan (recommended under either option).
Similar to other fire services within the CVRD, the Union Bay Volunteer Firefighters Association would operate under a fire services contract with the Regional District, receiving an annual grant for administration, bookkeeping services, insurance and utilities, and volunteer firefighter remuneration. The Union Bay Fire Chief and Deputy Fire Chief would become employees of the CVRD.
All capital assets (e.g. infrastructure, buildings, equipment) and land owned by UBID would transfer to the CVRD for the purpose of the service that is being provided (e.g. water, fire, street lighting). Langley Lake Dam and associated water licenses would also transfer to the CVRD for the purpose of providing water service to the residents and ratepayers in Union Bay. In addition, all liabilities would also transfer to the CVRD, including the long-term debt on the water treatment plant.
Were the community of Union Bay to incorporate as a municipality at some future date, all local services, along with the related assets and liabilities, would similarly be transferred from the regional district to the new municipality. This would include water licenses used to draw water supply and any water licenses or capital reserve funds that are accounted for in the capital plans for that water service.
Currently, UBID’s borrowing is on a short term basis and is not locked in. If conversion were to occur, the CVRD would work with the Municipal Finance Authority (MFA) for any long-term borrowing options.
Yes, UBID will be conducting a referendum for property owners on Saturday, November 28, 2020 with advance polling opportunities on November 10 and 17 (there will not be a mail-in voting option). The referendum question will be as follows: Are you in favour of dissolving the Union Bay Improvement District and converting to Comox Valley Regional District local service areas?
Eligible voters in the referendum are property owners within UBID, or the spouse of a landowner who has a substantial interest or right to possession of the land. Some additional voter requirements also apply; further details on elector eligibility can be found on the UBID website (Elections Policy 1-B-11).
If the referendum results indicate that the majority of electors vote for UBID conversion and it is approved by the Minister, implementation would not occur until partway through 2021. Local knowledge from Union Bay would be utilized as much as possible through existing UBID staff and Trustee input, as well as a potential committee to advise CVRD. The transition would seek to maintain consistent levels of services until a solid understanding of operations and financials is obtained. This would also provide transparency as the CVRD goes through the technical and legislative requirements to establish the local service areas for water, fire, and street lighting.
The Draft Report was released to the public in September 2020. Public engagement is being planned which includes both a virtual information session on October 15 live-streamed on YouTube, and an in-person session on October 20 at the Union Bay Community Hall. The in-person session requires pre-registration for specific time slots, and will follow all physical distancing and safety protocols in accordance with public health requirements. Similarly, the referendum process will follow all health and safety protocols for all three voting days.
- UBID Conversion Study Newsletter #1 March 2020
- UBID Conversion Study Newsletter #2 April-May 2020
- UBID Conversion Study Newsletter #3 September 2020
- UBID Conversion Study Final Report
- Staff Report Dated July 3, 2020: UBID Conversion Study Update
- January 2020: Project Update and Advisory Working Group Appointment
- Province of BC awarding conversion study funds
- CVRD correspondence to Province of BC and UBID
- Province of BC Improvement District Conversion Guide