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Leaving Fraser Valley Regional District may take up to two years

Abbotsford will continue its quest to leave the Fraser Valley Regional District, and move to single tier governance.

Staff were told Monday to investigate the process, which could take up to two years to complete, and requires provincial approval.

Abbotsford contributes more than $3 million – almost half the total FVRD budget. According to a staff report, the city does not receive equal value in services.

Ending the relationship could save taxpayers between $800,000 and $1.4 million each year, say city staff.

Coun. Patricia Ross asked for a deferral until April 4, but was denied.

Ross, who is also chair of the FVRD, said the report was based on old 2010 information. A review of the allocation of FVRD services is underway and she believes the district should have the chance to respond to concerns.

She added if Abbotsford proceeds, the provincial government could force the city to become part of Metro Vancouver, rather than remain a separate entity.

“That will cost even more,” she said, adding the notion of becoming a single tier governance was “a long shot.” Ross emphasized she was speaking as a city councillor and not as the FVRD chair. Mayor George Peary disagreed with her Metro assessment, calling the comments “a little bit of fear mongering.”

“The decision itself in not irrevocable. It’s the first step in a long journey ... we should start that journey,” said Coun. John Smith, who asked staff to provide a budget of what it will cost to cover the services the FVRD presently provides.

Only Ross voted against the motion, while Couns. Les Barkman and Bill MacGregor were absent from the meeting.

The FVRD consists of six municipalities – Abbotsford, Mission, Chilliwack, Hope, Kent and Harrison – and eight electoral areas. Some of the services provided by the district include 911 services and fire dispatch, mosquito control, planning, and garbage collection.

If Abbotsford decides to leave the FVRD, it may have to remove itself from the Fraser Valley Regional Hospital District.

The purpose of the district is to raise funds for capital costs associated with hospital facilities and major equipment purchases.

According to 2009 financial statements, the hospital district has just under $54 million in outstanding debt. Under the current financial system, Abbotsford is responsible for 49 per cent.

“We would have to take that debt with us,” said city manager Frank Pizzuto. “We are paying for it anyway.”

Presently, the city pays a yearly amount on the debt, in addition to the just over $3 million the city pays each year to the FVRD.

Judy Lewis, Abbotsford’s chief financial officer, said in 2010 the city paid approximately $5.5 million to the hospital district. How much of the debt Abbotsford would accept will have to be negotiated.

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