The eight candidates for Kimberley City Council appeared in front of voters Monday evening at the All Candidates Forum hosted by the Chamber of Commerce.
They answered a wide-ranging series of questions, which included topics such as infrastructure, the arts, deer, the reserve fund and the flume project.
Given the length of the forum, this report will be in two parts.
After brief introductory comments by each candidate, moderator John Ross got down to business with the first question:
How does the City of Kimberley keep up or catch up with maintaining and replacing its aging infrastructure?
“We all drove here tonight over some of our infrastructure issues,” said Sandra Roberts. She went on to say that there were only three ways, either up taxes, try to make sure that the City gets its fair share of grants, or find ways to increase the tax base.
She pointed out that former Mayor Jim Ogilvie (whose name would be mentioned often through the evening) thought Kimberley needed a population of about 12,000.
“We’re only half way there,” Roberts said.
Brent Bush agreed that the only real way to address the looming infrastructure deficit was to grow the community. Right now the problem was being addressed in a patchwork fashion, Bush said, and that was not the ideal way to go about it.
Coun. Albert Hoglund said the City has always struggled with replacing infrastructure but a fund was started three years ago to help address it and water and sewer rates were hiked up.
“I fought for years against raising water rates, but I realize that was a big mistake,” he said.
Everyone always talks about attracting light industry, Hoglund said, but how do you go about getting it. All you can do is continue to promote Kimberley as a good place to live. He also reminded people that because of Kimberley’s layout in a long line from Townsite to Marysville there was a lot of infrastructure to maintain.
“We’re in big trouble,” said Coun. Darryl Oakley. “We have $200 million in infrastructure costs looming. We have north of $35 million for the sewage treatment plant. The bottom line is your taxes will pay for some of this, but we need seven Jim Ogilvies on Council. We need to get on this now. We have to find creative ways to deal with this.”
However, Oakley said, there were serious choices ahead.
“When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you need to do is stop digging,” said Coun. Kent Goodwin. “We must stop any new infrastructure pieces. I think we’re at the limit on sewer and water fees. We have the largest flat tax in B.C. and one of the most unequitable tax systems in the province.”
Goodwin wants to shift $300 of the flat tax to the millrate so that the smaller home owner isn’t paying the same as someone who owns a mansion.
Goodwin also said that a service review was required. “We must figure out what we can afford and what we can’t,” he said.
Candidate Darren Close said that the increase in the utility rates will take us part way there but more was required. Understanding the life span and planning for eventual replacement was key, he said.
“We have to fix it today and make sure we are prepared to fix it again in 25 years,” he said. “We have to prepare for that.”
Coun. Bev Middlebrook says that Council is very aware that there is an infrastructure problem and a plan is in place.
“We are not winging it,” she said. “Grants are out there but they are not as easy to get as they used to be.
“We need to be creative. We have to start thinking differently. Every community has the same problem.”
Middlebrook also said she agreed with Goodwin on the flat tax.
“What happened to saving for a rainy day,” asked candidate Nigel Kitto. He said he had read the recent report about Kimberley’s aging in the ground infrastructure and how much was being lost through again pipes.
“I wonder if we could save more money by changing behaviour on water use?”
The next question concerned attracting light industry. How would you bring more employment to Kimberley?
Brent Bush said that there is always plenty of talk about an industry being the silver bullet that will save the city.
“I don’t think that large industry is going to happen, unless it pops out of the sky,” he said. However, if you make Kimberley an attractive place to live, people will bring their skills.
“A large number of small business is more likely to occur,” he said.
“This question has come up many times,” said Albert Hoglund. “Before we can attract industry, we need land. The city owns very little. I’m not sure when the province will release Teck land to the city. We’ve been at it for 15 years but no one will sign off on it. If we had that land, we could try to push for industry.”
But Hoglund said he agreed that an entrepreneur bringing one or two people is more likely than a larger business.
“We’ve had heavy industry, that’s done,” said Darryl Oakley. “The trend now is for industry that fits in the culture.”
He pointed out that there are examples of creative thinking out there. Sudbury, for example, turned huge areas of brownfield land into apiaries.
“We need to push hard for that Teck land,” he said. “There are lots of opportunities, but we have to push hard for it. I didn’t vote for the SunMine, but now that it’s there we need to grow it so it’s out of the scary zone and starts making money.”
Kent Goodwin said that there has been lots of conversation on economic development but it hasn’t gone anywhere.
“We have started things but haven’t followed through. We need to support the whole branding process. We have a conference centre but we didn’t spend the marketing money. We have a health centre with an empty third floor, it’s a potential for something. When we discussed the Marysville Arena all kinds of interesting ideas came up and then they faded away.”
He also said that it was important to target young entrepreneurs in marketing because they can live anywhere.
“That’s the million dollar question,” said Darren Close. “There are lots of suggestions on the table that need to be evaluated. There are lots of resources we can take advantage of that we haven’t been, but nobody can really answer the question. We need to focus on smaller business.”
Close says that 20 to 30 people hiring one or two people each is a far more likely scenario than a large industry.
Bev Middlebrook pointed out that the Kootenays have the highest unemployment rate in the province.
“We need to look at something else,” she said.
She pointed to a small island community ion Newfoundland that sponsored a creative design contest for one-room houses.
“We have to come up with something different that no one else has,” she said.
Nigel Kitto agreed that Kimberley had to come up with something different.
“We are part of a larger economy and things are not that good right now. But I moved here for the amenities and amenity migration is a big deal. I know several people who work online. People are looking at the life/work balance.”
“I think Kimberley has done a good job being a good place to be,” Sandra Roberts said. “But to change the employment situation we have been doing a good job of community development, but not economic development. We can’t be like a dog lying there waiting to be petted. We have to get out there and get it.
“For the brownfield lands, we should be pounding on doors every day, so they’ll give it to you just to make you go away.”
Watch tomorrow’s Bulletin for more from the Council forum and also the Mayor forum.