The Fraser Valley Regional District is one of the fastest-growing and largest regional districts in B.C., and at the helm of the FVRD board is Jason Lum.
Lum, 37, received the most votes of any Chilliwack city councillor last October with an unprecedented 15,604 votes, and is working on in his third term as FVRD board chair. He sat down with The Progress for an interview in his bright corner office to share FVRD goals, and challenges, and a little looking ahead to what’s in store for 2019.
“For me I think regional governments are interesting because as a board they force you to put parochial concerns aside to sit around the big round table, and to understand the needs and strengths of citizens of the whole region.”
The FVRD comprises six municipalities and eight electoral areas, and provides 100 types of services to more than 292,000 people across the Fraser Valley.
“For those living outside municipal boundaries, we are their city hall.”
As a hard-working councillor, Lum was first appointed as a director on the FVRD board in 2012, where he faced a steep learning curve.
Regional transit, with the success of the FVX, bus #66, has been a huge success. It could lead to a similar type of service being replicated on the south side of the Fraser River.
“My next big push will be to look at how we are interfacing with other regional transit. In other words, how easy is it to connect with our Vancouver counterparts in transit?
“We should be able to travel the region in more seamless fashion.”
What would he say is the biggest challenge facing the FVRD?
New people moving here, which means demand for increased services, Lum pointed out.
“As one of the fastest-growing and largest regional districts, the same thing that provides us one of our biggest opportunities, which is people want to come here, be here, and move here, also provides challenges like facing how very spread out we are geographically.”
One of the most impressive aspects is the FVRD’s ability to demonstrate fiscal restraint.
“We’ve provided all of these services, moved these different strategic pillars forward over the last four years, and we’ve done so without a tax increase,” said Lum. “We’re incredibly fiscally responsible.”
Regional Districts were created by the provincial government to offer municipal-type services to unincorporated areas as cities or municipalities, as well as the outlying areas of the province.
“As populations grew, especially with the FVRD, as one of the fastest growing in the province, over time we started to see where it makes sense to work together regionally around different services like air quality or waste management or transit.”
Economies of scale play into why it makes sense.
FVRD is the third most populous RD, and the regional district can also function as a repository of information, or a research partner. The FVRD partners with MCC for the homeless count every four years.
“We then provide a regional snapshot of the homeless population,” Lum said.
“Rather than recreating 20 similar services in close proximity to each other, there are efficiencies to be had working together as a region.”
A wide array of services can be tapped into as diverse as animal control, bylaw enforcement, mosquitoes, and invasive weeds.
“We can step in when often times there is no other agency there to do it,” Lum said.
So FVRD provides expertise in planning, water, garbage and sewer services, but also operates some rather unique ones, like air park services, or operating a cable service, a campground and a even a bowling alley. It took over the lease at the Vedder Campground, and now operates the business.
Strategic priority areas were the focus of the last round of strategic planning. They include the environment (air and water quality), waste management, flood protection/management, and tourism, and outdoor recreation.
“On the waste management side, probably the biggest thing is we are working on is Waste Wise program, as we guide the region toward Zero Waste.”
It’s about bringing the region’s solid waste management plan forward, with ideas like leading the development of a region-wide organics program.
The website, bewastewise.com, focuses on recycling and organics separation tips, in the face of very finite disposal space.
“Our solution to this has been to be very aggressive with source separation and diversion tips, and urging everyone to get as much as we can out of the waste stream,” Lum said.
Indigenous relations is another area that will be in the spotlight.
“We’ll look at how we work alongside First Nations government and partners, and looking for ways to work together on different projects,” Lum said.
An outdoor recreation impact study could be next term’s work, as well as seeking extra enforcement options for the backcountry.
“If we are hitting the threshold where the natural environment can’t handle the visitors and the impact they’re having, what can we do to promote the good, positive behaviour and discourage illegal dumping.”
“It’s a big give and take. We love the fact that the region is a big beautiful place, but we don’t want to take it for granted.
“We want visitors to respect the place, and even hope they leave it better than the way they found it.”