Sunday April 20, 2014

Council faces big issues in election year

Raises, Ajax likely to make headlines again in 2014

Two-thirds of the way through its term, Kamloops City council has tackled a couple of big political hot potatoes: the issue of giving itself a raise and how to deal with the proposed Ajax mine.

Those two topics are bound to be back in the news in 2014 as the countdown begins to the Nov. 15 municipal election.

They aren’t the only thorny issues that this council has faced. The Daily News polled several council members this week to find out their perspective on what was big in the year that just ended and what’s coming up in this, an election year.

A decision to increase council’s pay — even though it’s not effective until after the election — was a topic of hot debate. The fact that Kamloops councillors and the mayor are paid less than most of their B.C. colleagues didn’t stop the criticism.

Coun. Ken Christian said he expects council remuneration to come up during the election campaign.

Council made progress in a lot of areas in 2013, he said, citing the agricultural plan, airshed strategy, pedestrian and parks master plans all making leaps ahead.

“It may not garner a lot of headlines, but that’s the important work of City council,” he said.

The City also tried a new budget consultation strategy that Christian thinks works better, starting earlier in the process to get input from neighbourhoods on projects they feel they need.

Mayor Peter Milobar cited the upgrades to Tranquille Road — lighting and pedestrian improvements — as a big accomplishment in 2013.

But the biggest, by far, wasn’t one the City had control over. It was the groundbreaking for the Royal Inland Hospital expansion.

“That has been the most unheralded story of 2013 as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

It’s the largest civic-type building project in town and brings with it a residency program that could lead to more doctors staying in the city or at least in the region.

Council continues to move forward on other projects, such as a downtown parkade, performing arts centre and gateway improvements, noted Milobar.

Coun. Nelly Dever said one of the most sensitive issues of 2013 was dealing with a derelict house on McGowan that has become a neighbourhood issue.

The owner has some mental-health problems and was given a series of deadlines to get the interior of the house cleaned enough that repairs from a fire can be made. If she doesn’t meet the deadline, the City will do the work and bill her for it.

Dever said once the work is done, the owner and neighbours will be better off.

“To me, that stands out because there were so many variables and so many parties involved,” she said.

“It’s the personal issues that stand out to me. It’s not so much the land uses.”

She was glad to see the completion of those previously mentioned plans, especially the agricultural plan as she sat on the committee, and hopes it will be finished before the election.

The performing arts centre community meetings were one of the highlights of 2013 for Coun. Nancy Bepple.

She predicted the official community plan process will be a big issue in 2014 as it gets underway.

“It’s an election issue in terms of what people want in the city. I support increasing the density of the core instead of continual expansion of fringes,” she said.
Bepple led the remuneration increase effort, and stood behind her push.

“I think it was a wise thing, given there was no review of the remuneration policy since 2001. I think it was reasonable to review the remuneration policy and so I stand by that.”

Coun. Donovan Cavers said the fact the pay increase doesn’t kick in until after the election, removes it from this council.

“There’s no other way for councillors’ pay to be adjusted than for them to do it themselves,” he said.

He mentioned the redevelopment of the former John Tod elementary school into a community centre as a highlight for 2013.

He expects Ajax to be an election issue, but also believes the new parking pay stations downtown could arise as a topic of discussion.

All five council members said they plan on running for re-election. Dever said she has some personal circumstances that have to be considered, while Bepple said she needs to discuss her schedule with her employer.

As for election issues, Ajax was mentioned, although it is something that the City has no official say in. Council has been pushed to take a stand on it, but Milobar said with the company now looking at changing the location, it could be on hold for a long time.

Christian noted Ajax was an election issue in 2011, so it would be surprising if it didn’t come up again in 2014.

“But it’s not our decision to make. And secondly, there’s not enough information to make an evidence-based decision,” he said.

“The majority of us feel that we want to wait until that’s there. That should not be construed as being in favour of it. I think a lot of people feel if you’re not against it, you’re in favour of it.”

Coun. Arjun Singh cited downtown parking and public engagement as ongoing issues council will contend with in 2014, and ones he looks forward to tacking as he seeks re-election.

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