“If you could summarize what you bring to council in one word,” asked resident Rory Luxmoore of the 12 Revelstoke council contenders at the Nov. 2 all-candidates’ forum, “what would that one word be?”
“Creativity,” said Rick Hodgson.
“Energy,” said Pat Wells.
“Sensibility,” said Jason Roe.
“Ethics,” said Murray Velichko.
“Passion,” said Jim Ritchie.
“Myself,” said Steve Bender, getting a laugh or two.
“Balance,” said Chris Johnston (this answer was hard to hear — it might have been a similar-sounding word).
“Different,” said Jody Simm
“Knowledge,” said Phil Welock.
“Family,” said Tony Scarcella.
“Passion,” said Gary Starling.
“Experience,” said Linda Nixon.
About 230 people attended the Nov. 2 event at the community centre moderated by former Revelstoke mayor Dr. Geoff Battersby. It lasted for over two hours, starting with individual introductions, then several questions from the audience, then closing statements.
There was virtually no debate or cross-talk during the forum, so the story lends itself to a summary. What follows is summary of each candidate’s opening statements. Check back to www.revelstoketimesreview.com or see the Nov. 9 print edition for more on the question and answer portion of the debate.
Here are the introduction summaries in random order as selected by the moderator:
Incumbent councillor Tony Scarcella focused on family and seniors, noting council’s record attracting funding for several seniors housing initiatives this term. He said he wanted for re-focus on infrastructure issues, such as extending sewer service to Arrow Heights, saying finding federal government funding like they did for the Clearview Heights project would be key. Scarcella said the debt issue needs to be addressed, saying the existing $20 million debt was “unsustainable over the long term” and called for “establishing efficiency in all city departments” to tackle the issue. He also called for a five-year plan to bring business taxes down. He said he had been “firm” on council on taxation and would continue to do so if elected.
New candidate Jason Roe said he moved here from Ontario in 2005 and “fell in love” with the place. He persuaded his wife to move here in 2008 and had made incredible friendships since then. “I am passionate about Revelstoke and its magnificent surroundings,” Roe said. “I have invested here socially and with my businesses,” he said, adding he would focus on social and business issues. He said he was willing to listen and learn. “If you vote for me, Jason Roe, I will do this with honesty, integrity and common sense, and most of all I will not make decisions in haste.” Roe invited everyone to contact him with questions.
Incumbent candidate Steve Bender said he had been a resident of Revelstoke for 20 years and a councillor for three. He explained the various committees and roles he served on while on council. He also touched on his 35 years of experience in broadcast journalism and museum management. He said his first term had been “extremely interesting and challenging.”
Bender said he’d decided to run again to: “help promote job and business opportunities, heritage preservation, fiscal responsibility — best bang for our tax bucks — affordable housing, youth involvement in local politics, just to name a few.”
He said he’d focus on taking job. “We need to retain and gain a few numbers — taxpayers — to sustain this amazing lifestyle that we enjoy.”
Bender said he would seek public input on fiscal matters.
Jim Ritchie gave the most succinct introduction, answers and concluding statement. Ritchie said he’d been a Big Eddy resident for 35 years. He said he’d been involved in all sorts of activities, from youth sports clubs all the way to helping run the Big Eddy Waterworks. “I never really thought I wanted to be on council. I figured my life was busy enough, until friends of mine approached me and started talking about they didn’t know if they’d be able to stay here on a fixed income when they retire the way things are going,” Ritchie said. “And I started taking a long look at it. I believe that the city should be run like a business. And I don’t see it being run that way. I see it being run as, ‘We need more money, let’s raise taxes.'”
He continued: “I believe with my experience, if you vote me in, that’s what I’ll do.”
Incumbent Chris Johnston introduced himself as a lawyer, mediator, business owner and investor in Revelstoke. He’s been on council on since 2002. “I have three adult children, and as many know, I also have a five-month old, who has refreshed my perspective on many things, to say the least.”
Johnston expanded on his “old is new” campaign slogan, saying many of the past issues have become recurring issues. “Not because they’ve been ignored, but because they require continuing attention.”
Johnston said Revelstoke has to “face up and deal with” infrastructure issues, saying we’ve only been putting about half of what is required into maintenance. “We can’t go on putting it off forever,” he said, adding we’d need to replenish reserves for basics like sewer, water and roads — which could be done through saving in some areas and “modest” tax increases. He wants to re-focus on getting traffic off the highway and into downtown re-energise downtown revitalization efforts.
He also said business taxes and empty storefronts are a concern, but he didn’t feel shifting commercial tax burden onto residential ratepayers was the answer; instead he proposed building the business sector and creating more “critical mass.”
A former government agent and owner of transportation company City Transfer, incumbent candidate and retiree Phil Welock said he’d made council his full-time job on his first term, racking up 500 meetings in three years. Welock noted the dozens of government and local agencies that had got on board for the development of Revelstoke Mountain Resort, but said his first term had been overshadowed by the global recession which had drastically slowed its development. He went on to list public order initiatives he’d been involved with such as dealing with illegal rentals, unruly animal owners and other social issues. He said he’d like to focus on youth and seniors issues, get the budget cycle started earlier in the year. He also gave council a failing grade on communicating with the public, saying it needed to improve.
New candidate Linda Nixon emphasized her family experience in small business as well as her personal experience in her career as a nurse. Nixon said she’d like to focus on creating healthy, wholesome neighbourhoods. She suggesting Revelstoke could be a centre for snow knowledge. She said she wanted to tackle issues related to absentee landlords. She also said the community needed to focus on the needs of youth and young people. “The best lessons I’ve learned in my long nursing career are humility, hope and the ability to listen with both of my ears and my heart,” Nixon said. “I have worked as an educator, an administrator, a team leader and a community case manager,” she said. She also mentioned her community involvement generating funding for the Solarium at Moberly Park Manor, getting the volunteer driver program going and increasing the adult day program. She noted her involvement with the hospice program and other health initiatives. “I am a life-long learner. I am known by my friends and colleagues for my common sense and my integrity,” Nixon said. “I want to work to move the development plan forward in a pragmatic, fiscally responsible way.”
Long-time resident Pat Wells has taken a run for a council seat before, but said now that he’s retired, he has the time to devote to the job. “I’ve been here for 30 years, and I’ve seen the good and the bad. I’ve seen the city council try to sell a million-dollar ski hill for a dollar and spend a million dollars doing it,” Wells said. “I bring a huge passion to anything I believe in,” he continued. He decried factionalism within the community, saying it was “sad.” He hopes if elected he could help bring people back together to work on common causes. “There’s so much talent in this town; it’s time we brought them all together and we get a synergy going and we make this town a good place to be.”
Wells talked of his experience with conservation groups and environmental issues. “I was looking at caribou issues before some of these biologists that are new to town were even born,” he joked. “And we’re still looking at caribou issues.”
“Let’s get everybody to the table and let’s sit down and work out a way to all enjoy why we’re here,” he said. “And I am going to be here forever, so you might as well elect me.”
He also touched on taxes: “The spending seems to be out of control.”
New candidate Rick Hodgson’s paced introduction ran into time limit issues. He bought a house here five years ago after visiting his daughter who has been a resident for 15 years. Hodgson said he had a background in the design industry and was impressed with the city’s signage and heritage restoration. He lauded several community organizations like Okanagan College and Mount Begbie Villas. “This community has a heart,” he said. “And in my mind, it’s people and families that make up the heart of the community.” He said he was running for two reasons, but was cut off when his allotted time ended.
New candidate Murray Velichko focused on economic development, city finances and taxation. He said the city needed to focus on expanding markets and finding jobs. He suggested a good strategy would be to expand existing industries by focusing on providing services to those industries that they currently source outside of town.
Velichko said he would work to reduce the city deficit and debt and get the reigns on why our finances were sinking further into the red. “I think that it’s vital for us to have an understanding … to truly understand why we are doing it,” he said.
He said long-term goals were restoring rail service and improving the highways. He said he’d work to support the official community plan including affordable housing.
“My primary goal as councillor would be to give back to the community that has welcomed us a number of years ago,” he said. “I am running for city councillor because I believe that we require a fresh perspective in council. We need to re-energize the businesses and residents alike and continue to move forward.”
New candidate Jody Simm explained he studied tourism and coastal adventure tourism, has been an itinerant worker, an international tourist and did a bid in Tofino. “I learned a little about tourism and a lot about debt,” Simm joked. He described Tofino as a town more developed as a tourist destination than Revelstoke, noting they still struggle with affordable housing issues because they hadn’t planned ahead. Simm focused on the need to provide affordable housing, saying dense, multi-storey housing would be the solution. “Let’s develop it ecologically, high-density, high-rise housing,” he said. “It gets a lot of units in on a little bit of land … because we have one chance and once it’s gone, it’s gone and we’ve got to get that going.”
Simm said the city’s growing debt was a concern that would create more problems down the road if it wasn’t reigned in. He also suggested implementing community gardens, suggesting using existing flower beds as locations. He said the city needed to focus on overall tourism development including the shoulder seasons in a businesslike manner.
He prefers stable growth. “This is the size of town I like,” Simm said. “Let’s keep it like this.”
New candidate Gary Starling came to Revelstoke in 1980. He described himself as a locomotive engineer who’s become more active in the union recently.
Starling said the debt issue was a major concern for him and noted an annual finance report from city finance director Graham Inglis that notes that the City of Revelstoke’s financial position is continuing to deteriorate. The price tag is about $20 million in debt now and a projected debt of $37.36 million by 2015. “Is this sustainable, and is this the type of legacy we want to leave our children?” Starling asked. “I think we have to look at current spending practices and see if there is room for improvement,” he said. He advocated for a budget that falls within our current tax base. He called for prioritizing the next wave of expenditures. Another goal is to focus on economic development and attracting new businesses. He said the Revelstoke Community Forest Corporation and the Revelstoke Community Energy Corporation initiatives were examples of forward-thinking that makes Revelstoke stand out.
He said outdoor activities were the key to driving new growth and attracting people to town. “My vision for Revelstoke is to maintain moderate growth but maintain that small-town sense of community. We need to reach out to youth, [and] get them involved in shaping the future of Revelstoke and we need to help our seniors cope with the changing demographics and the changing financial situation we find ourselves in in Revelstoke.”