The Oliver council has approved a budget allocation of CA$8,700 for the 2024 fiscal year to support the Secrest Hill Agricultural Farmworkers Campground, a report from the Times Chronicle highlighted.
This decision marks a pivotal step in addressing the operational challenges faced by the campground, which serves as a crucial facility for agricultural workers and those seeking affordable housing options.
The funding approval came in response to a request from the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameenon (RDOS), presented on behalf of Electoral Area “C” Director Rick Knodel on October 26. The RDOS sought a cost-sharing agreement with the Town of Oliver to mitigate the annual operating deficit of the campground, emphasizing the need for sustainable oversight and maintenance.
The Secrest Hill campground, facing an estimated operating deficit of CA$58,000 for 2024, initially prompted the RDOS to request Oliver to fund half of this amount. However, after careful consideration and analysis of the campground’s usage statistics from 2023, the town staff recommended a more tailored approach to funding.
The campground, which recorded approximately 925 registrations from mid-April to the end of September 2023, serves primarily agricultural workers, who accounted for 85% of its guests. The remaining 15% utilized the campground as an affordable housing solution. Aligning with this demographic data, the town staff proposed that Oliver’s contribution be 15% of the total deficit, amounting to CA$8,700.
Councillor Dave Mattes, supporting the staff’s recommendation, highlighted the broader implications of this funding. He pointed out the town’s historical reluctance to support the RDOS in similar requests and underscored the importance of providing viable alternatives for dismantled homeless camps, as mandated by upcoming government legislation. Mattes’s stance reflects a growing recognition of the essential services provided by campgrounds like Secrest Hill, not only to agricultural workers but also to the wider community in need of affordable housing options.
The RDOS has been administering the Secrest Hill campground since 1995, taking over direct management in 2020 to ensure compliance with COVID-19 safety protocols. The campground, formerly known as Loose Bay Campground, has undergone significant upgrades, thanks to a CA$657,000 investment from the province. These enhancements, completed over 2021 and 2022, have substantially improved the living conditions for agricultural workers in the region.
The upgrades encompass a range of amenities crucial for a comfortable and safe stay at the campground. These include the formalization of campsite locations, installation of new washroom and shower facilities, and the introduction of new sewer and water utilities. Additionally, the campground now boasts WiFi access, electrical upgrades, and improved road access and egress routes. A collaborative effort with the Okanagan Correctional Centre (OCC) led to the installation of 50 picnic tables at individual campsites, further enhancing the camping experience.
With its 125 individual camping spaces, Secrest Hill stands as one of the largest agricultural worker campsites in the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys. The campground caters to a diverse group of workers employed in various agricultural operations, including vineyards and farms producing wine, fruit, vegetables, cannabis, and mushrooms.