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Council split over making visitors pay accident costs

A local practice that doesn't sit well with ICBC is also no longer sitting well with Mayor Ian Sutherland.

A local practice that doesn't sit well with ICBC is also no longer sitting well with Mayor Ian Sutherland.

The mayor wants to stop billing non-residents for costs incurred by the District of Squamish (DOS) when non-residents are involved in traffic accidents and he wants the halt to take place as soon as possible. At this point, Sutherland doesn't have the full support of council.

Within Bylaw No. 1656 there is a clause that makes it a requirement for the DOS to bill non-residents for the district's expenses.

A report from the district's financial services department on the success of the initiative indicates that some costs have been recovered in the time since the bills started going out. In 2000, one invoice was sent for $736.58 but that invoice was never paid and in 2001 an invoice for $22,090.86 was sent but not paid.

Things improved in 2002 when 15 invoices were sent. The total value of the invoices was 6,833.60. Ten payments were made and the district recovered $4,909. Last year, 19 invoices were issued totalling $9,533.20, with $6,125.31 being recovered.

So far in 2004, only $426.94 has been collected from 16 invoices valued at a total of $7,020.35.Several members of council were critical of the report at a meeting Nov. 2, complaining that it didn't contain all the information requested by council.

Acting Finance Director Ralph Hughes was asked a number of questions that he could not answer because the information was not at hand. He did tell council that the average cost of a call-out to a traffic accident is $466.

The objective of council was to determine if Squamish was spending as much as it was recovering. The staff report did not provide that information.

Despite the fact that the report didn't contain all the information council wanted, Sutherland wanted to pass a motion that would put a stop to the practice of billing out-of-town accident victims.

"We are the only community in B.C. that does this," Sutherland said in arguing to scrap the program. "It is not good public relations to send people a bill."

"Three years ago I was pushing for this one," said Coun. Raj Kahlon. "If we are having a problem collecting we should just send it to a collection agency."

Sutherland said he believes that the reason collections are down in 2004 is because ICBC stopped paying the invoices. ICBC filed a lawsuit over a bill issued to Janice Griffin after she was involved in an accident. On Jan. 3, 2002 Griffin's vehicle was hit from behind by another vehicle at a Hwy. 99 intersection. ICBC claims Griffin was not at fault and therefore she should not have to pay the district's $237.42 invoice.

ICBC argues that Squamish's bylaw amounts to a tax which is illegal under the Local Government Act.

The legal matter is making its way through the process and at this point no court dates are set.On the issue of being the only community in B.C. sending out invoices, Coun. Corinne Lonsdale said: "I don't mind being on the cutting edge. We've pushed ICBC to cover the costs because truly it belongs to ICBC."

"I think we're setting a bad precedent," said Coun. Ray Peters.

Council voted to defer the issue until staff can generate another report with more information in it. Sutherland and Peters were against deferring the issue.