By Lachlan Labere/Black Press
Exorbitant municipal spending and debt, barriers to development, water woes, a need for jobs and greater accountability and transparency in public office.
All these issues were touched upon last Wednesday evening during the first of two all-candidates forums organized by the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce. This one was for the 12 people vying for a spot on city council.
Throughout the evening, the audience of about 275 people heard candidates proclaim their love for the city. However, they also frequently heard the criticism/confession of how mistakes were made over the past term. Meanwhile, candidates and the public seemed to share the vision of a Revelstoke with reduced barriers to business, more job opportunities, affordable living options and livable wages, and significantly improved communication and accountability from council and city hall.
The evening began with introductions from each of the candidates – Chuck Ferguson (incumbent), George Buhler (incument), Karen Powers, Steve Bender (incumbent), Treveor English, Chris Johnston (incumbent), Connie Brothers, Aaron Orlando, Gary Sulz, Gary Starling (incumbent), Scott Duke. This was followed by the candidates each answering a pre-written question chosen at random by moderator Geoff Battersby.
Up first was Aaron Orlando, who was asked what his position is on development cost charges (DCC) and if they’re achieving their intended purpose.
Orlando explained DCCs are a revenue stream for the city, and the current bylaw is generally OK. But he suggested, with real estate and development being stagnant, that council could look at the DCC fee schedule and consider reductions, 10 to 20 per cent, to promote growth.
Chris Johnston was asked if the city is receiving value for its dollar on the contracting of consultation services. He compared city staff to consultants, explaining there are some who give 110 per cent and others who give less. He said, however, that the city can’t afford to have the wide-range of expertise often needed on staff.
“Do we get good value for money? Sometimes yes, sometimes no,” Johnston concluded.
Chuck Ferguson was asked what he thinks the city’s infrastructure priorities are, to which he replied the Big Eddy waterworks.
“Some of the things that happened there was unfortunate, but it’s time to move ahead with that…,” said Ferguson. “I think the biggest problem there is how long it takes and what grants are available and how we’re going to approach that, because it certainly is a concern for people over there.”
Linda Nixon was asked how she sees the city supporting arts and culture, to which she commented on the successes the city has already seen through use of tourism infrastructure money and the hotel tax.
“With that money being given back into the community, you guys are doing a super job – that has nothing to do with me, I’m not organizing any of those events,” said Nixon, noting B.C. government representatives will be visiting Revelstoke to study what the city is doing right.
For Trevor English, the question was how might the city address the issues of the Big Eddy water system. English noted the current boil water advisory in the Big Eddy, stating the city has to look at how to safeguard the water system in the Big Eddy and other areas, and as soon as possible.
“We cannot continue down the path we’re on with the drinking water in the Big Eddy,” said English. “If it means extending the city system to the Big Eddy so they have drinking water, we have to do that.”
Next up was George Buhler, who was sked why the affordable housing project has stalled and if he’s in favour of that type of project. He admitted it’s an issue affecting a lot of people, but he isn’t sure it’s something the city should be involved in.
“I have a problem with that issue in most cases because it’s something that should be dealt with in another way. It should not be on the backs of the city…,” said Buhler. “(The city) could maybe contribute to it, but I don’t think we should be the only person in that issue.”
Karen Powers was asked what the city can do to attract businesses that pay a living wage. She suggested tax and DCC incentives, adding growth is integral to bringing about higher wages.
“If we continue to support each other and work together with the businesses, the community and the city, that’s the only way we’ll probably move forward,” said Powers.
The question of how the city might enhance support for local businesses and Revelstoke Mountain Resort (RMR) was Gary Starling’s to answer. He said supporting local businesses may be more important than attracting new businesses, suggesting the city needs to look at, and try to address the problems they’re facing.
“If we give them the opportunity and the culture to grow their business, that’s a more cost-effective way of bringing employment and value to our community,” said Starling, noting it has been really difficult for the city to attract new business.
Attracting jobs was Scott Duke’s response to how the city might attract full-time families. He suggested it’s easy to bring people to Revelstoke, but difficult to keep them when they come up against the limited job market.
“I think it’s more of a question of what we need to do to attract great employers in our community, so people don’t have to leave to go work at the rigs or wherever else they’re going to support their families,” said Duke. “And that means… reducing the tax burden on business. We have a tax structure in Revelstoke that’s one of the worst as far as business goes.”
What should the city do about the golf course? Gary Sulz said the only thing it can do to keep it viable is marketing. He admitted this is a challenge given the course’s location, but he also suggested the city approach RMR to see if they might include the course in their marketing.
Steve Bender challenged the question of what the city could do to attract greater citizen participation on committees. He marvelled at the level of volunteer participation in Revelstoke.
“Yes, it’s difficult, it always will be difficult to get volunteers… but I’m not so sure we have a volunteer problem, we just may have a numbers problem,” said Bender. “But how do you get more people out? You thank them as much as you can because they deserve it.”
The last pre-written question was for Connie Brothers: What city services would you eliminate to reduce the budget.
Without having been on council, Brothers said that’s impossible to answer. But she did have some suggestions to improve the budget process. She argued budget deliberations need to happen sooner, and that more time is needed for analysis. She also said staff should be encouraged to find reductions.
“Council should say to the people below, the people working in the city, ‘listen, we need you to reduce the budget by a certain percentage… I want you to go away and tell me what your core services are and everything over and above that, we’ll see if we can afford, we’ll see if it’s sustainable,” said Brothers, adding council should also compare departmental budgets of past years when deliberating the current one.
Later in the evening, during the public question period, candidates were asked to identify, in two words, their strengths that would benefit them if elected. They answered as follows: Ferguson: approachable representation; Buhler: hands-on experience; Powers: caring, communications; Bender: fair consideration; English: Listen, understand: Johnston: big picture; Brothers: communication, ideas; Orlando: experience, communication; Sulz: open dialogue; Starling: common sense: Duke: action-oriented; Nixon: communication with upper government.
The public will have an opportunity to question mayoral candidates Michael Brooks-Hill, Mark McKee and David Raven at the mayoral forum on Tuesday, Oct. 28 at the rec centre. Doors open at 6:30 p.m