Residents on Salt Spring Island, the largest of the southern Gulf Island in B.C., have voted no to a referendum asking whether they wanted to become a municipality.

According to preliminary results, 3916 voted against the incorporation, while 2402 voted in favour. Final results are expected to be released by the week of September 11.

Close to 11,000 people live on the island, which is a 35 minute ferry ride from Victoria.

The decision means the island will remain a rural area under the control of the Gulf Islands Trust and B.C.'s Capital Regional District (CRD).

A summer of heated debate

Residents who voted against the referendum worried that a move to incorporate would weaken the power of the Trust, whose mandate is to preserve and protect the nature of the Gulf Islands.

Many expressed concerns about the potential cost of repairing and maintaining the island's large network of roads if that were to become the responsibility of a municipality.

The "no" side's simple tagline "Remember why you live here" reflected a fear that the island's basic nature would be changed if elected officials were to assume responsibility for land use decisions and delivery of services.

Residents who voted yes to incorporation said that the islands' population had grown too large to remain under the control of the Islands Trust.

They hoped that electing a mayor and six city councillors would lead to better coordination between the different agencies responsible for island services and policies.

Ruckle Provincial Park

The view from Ruckle Provincial Park on Salt Spring Island. (Flickr/Ruth Hartnup)

Two studies were prepared to help residents make their decision. One compared the two forms of governance, the other estimated the costs of services if incorporation was to happen.

That study said a residential property assessed at $480,000 would pay an extra $10 a year under incorporation, and a business would pay $50 more.

Residents have been debating the referendum since the date was set for the vote in March.