Lantzville council begins process to reduce representation

NANAIMO – Lantzville council took the first step Monday toward a referendum to reduce the size of council from seven to five.

The decision to downsize Lantzville council could soon be in the hands of voters.

Lantzville councillors took the first step toward approving a referendum for this year’s civic election, voting 4-3 in an open meeting to ask the public whether their numbers should be reduced from seven to five.

The move was spurred by Coun. Jennifer Millbank, who pointed out that while the municipality is the size of a town that only requires five representatives, its geographic area and designation as a district mandates it to elect seven.

According to Millbank, the district has the same representation as an urban centre of 50,000, and she questioned whether it’s necessary when most of the district is undeveloped. By chopping two council seats, there could be an estimated annual savings of between $25,000 and $30,000 and greater competition in elections, she said.

While the idea faced support from those who liked the idea of public choice and cost savings, councillors Denise Haime, Brian Dempsey and Graham Savage raised concerns about the loss of broad representation, especially when Lantzville could be on the cusp of growth.

“For the first time since I’ve been on council, we might actually have some development happening in Lantzville and I don’t think this is the time to start changing direction,” Dempsey said.

Haime called the referendum a red herring to get  people to the polls. In her opinion “this isn’t about voters, it’s about politics,” she said.

The referendum issue is expected to come back to council in March when politicians will be asked to pass three readings of a new bylaw, aimed at changing council representation required under the B.C. Community Charter.

If passed, the question will go to referendum. Any changes would take place in 2017.

It is unknown how much a referendum will cost.

Residents, who were at the open council meeting Monday, were divided about seeing the issue of council size on the ballot.

Doug Parkhurst and Dave Scott pointed out that if the district plans on growth it will want  seven councillors. They also raised concerns about the quality of decision making and representation if seats are cut.

“I think it’s a disservice to the community … because having seven people represents a broader range of the community and I think you get better decision making,” Scott said. “I think five is too small.”

But Hans Larsen calls a smaller council a positive move. Good representation doesn’t have a number attached to it, it’s the people who sit at the table who matter, he said.

Larsen also likes the idea of cost savings, questioning why Lantzville should have more councillors than it needs.

“I think it’s important we look at every place to reasonably save money and council size happens to be one of them. It’s not the only one. We need to look elsewhere … but I don’t see why we shouldn’t exclude council size as a place to save [thousands of dollars] a year,” he said.

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