Improvement districts are autonomous local government bodies responsible for providing one or more local services for the benefit of the residents in a community. They vary considerably in size, from small subdivisions, to urban communities. Improvement districts are usually located in rural areas of the province where there was no alternative form of local governance available, suitable, or desirable for the community. They are similar in structure to a municipality but are more informal and only provide direct services such as waterworks, fire protection or street lighting. There are more than 200 improvement districts operating in the province.
The incorporation of an improvement district will only be considered where a regional district is unable or unwilling to establish a service area. The majority of the landowners in the area being considered for incorporation must vote in favour of creating an improvement district.
Improvement districts are brought into existence by the provincial government through Cabinet Orders which authorized the passage of a document known as Letters Patent. The Letters Patent contain the name of the improvement district, its boundary and the services which it will provide to the residents within that boundary.
Improvement districts are administered by an elected board of trustees, one of whom has the additional duty of chair. Each trustee is elected for a three-year term by the eligible landowners of the improvement district. To be eligible to vote, or to be a candidate for trustee, a person must be eighteen years of age, a Canadian citizen, an owner of land in the improvement district and a B.C. resident for the previous six months.
The improvement district’s Letters Patent, applicable sections of the Local Government Act, and other applicable provincial statutes outline the powers that can be exercised by the board of trustees. These powers include the ability to enact and enforce its regulations and charges, to assess and collect taxes, to acquire, hold and dispose of lands, to borrow money and to expropriate lands required to carry out its functions. The board of trustees exercise these powers through the passage of resolutions and bylaws.
Although improvement districts are independent public corporations, they are also subject to supervision by the Ministry. All bylaws passed by the board of trustees must be registered with the Inspector of Municipalities and the bylaws are not effective until that approval is granted. In addition, each year the improvement district’s audited financial statements and the minutes of its annual general meeting are reviewed and filed with the Ministry.
Ministry staff are available to provide advice and direction to those involved with improvement districts.
For further information regarding improvement districts or other local government options for administering services in rural areas, please contact the Ministry.