Election 2014: Mayoral debate, part II

City of Kimberley: candidates discuss infrastructure, reserve fund, taxes

Continuing from the Tuesday evening Mayoral Candidates Forum, Don McCormick, Doug Johnson and Ron McRae were asked their position on the SunMine project.

“The project is well underway so it’s our responsibility to support it,” McCormick said. “But as it stands today, it’s not an economic development project. It’s an interesting project waiting for a reason to be. We need to ratchet it up so it’s producing substantial power and leverage it to attract industry seeking clean, affordable power.”

“I absolutely support it,” said McRae. “It’s been a goal of mine since 2011 to get it going and it’s not been an easy task. It was a difficult challenge for Council, but we have been successful. We need to bring it to the commission stage and then look ar possibly increasing the size. It’s all about proper strategic planning so investors will want to invest in it.”

“I’d say it’s a good thing because the City has already signed the contract,” Johnson said. “But I get nervous when government gets involved in industry. I get really worried when the City of Kimberley gets involved. Have you heard of the flume?”

The next issue was renewal of Kimberley’s infrastructure.

Infrastructure renewal is underway, McRae said.

“We are pro-actively planning and looking at ways to manage these projects. We recently approved a five-year capital plan with dollar values attached. It gives us a time line. It’s a huge step forward and hasn’t been done before.

“We are a resort community and we need to look like one and act like one.”

Johnson said he listened to the discussion among Council candidates Monday night about roads, sewer and water.

“They said our infrastructure is 75 years old in places. I live in Black Bear, the 75 year old pipes are the new ones.

“But we’ve spent all the money. If I was Mayor I’d jump into ditches to collect pop and beer cans to get enough money. I’m not joking.”

“We have 74 per cent of our capital assets depreciated. A healthy asset pool is 50 50, half old, half new,” McCormick said. “We need an additional 3.6 million a year just not to dig the hole any deeper.

“I am proud of the five-year capital plan but it’s not telling me we are making inroads to solving our problems. We need community collaboration to decide priorities and to me one of them should be Gerry Sorensen Way. Every tourist who comes through town goes up that road and why it’s not a priority is beyond me.”

Candidates were then asked to explain the reserve fund.

“I got my first lecture from Jim Ogilvie at my first Council meeting,” Johnson said. “We had $300,000 left over at the end of the year. Jim Ogilvie put it into a reserve fund. ‘Mark my words, we’ll need it’, he said. Now I find we have no reserve fund. I’m furious.”

McCormick said that Kimberley has a number of reserve funds.

“The big fund was $4.3 million. It is called the Surplus Fund and it still sits today at $1 million. The Kimberley Reserve Fund is windfall from land sales that are salted away. But if you have 10 or 12 projects a year using the fund, then you have to question the planning process.”

“The Kimberley Reserve Fund was created in 1959,” said McRae. “There is a long history of using it for non-budget projects. It wasn’t created as a rainy day fund. It has an ebb and flow. It was never intended to be a rainy day fund. There is confusion between the reserve and surplus funds. In 2012 we broke even and are able to keep the Surplus Fund at $1 million. In 2018, we project the surplus will be at $2.8 million.”

Next, the question was in camera meetings. Would candidates be open to discontinuing them?

“There are three reasons for an in camera meeting,” McCormick said. “Land, labour or litigation. The issue is we are not releasing information on why when we could release it. In the past three years we have been in camera where we could have released information. But we can’t do away with the process.

“I hate that in camera nonsense,” Johnson said. “But there are some things that are private concerning individuals.”

“Not everything important is done in camera,” McRae said. “Labour, land and legal are the three terms. Coun. Goodwin has been the police on this. There are many matters that are sensitive and we do not want to affect the business interests of the city. The reality is, if you compare time spent in camera to time at the regular meeting, it’s not disproportionate. And we are kept in check by the city clerk . We do release what we can at the following regular meeting.”

Next up was the question of property taxes.

“It is a challenging situation,” McRae said. “The financial plan is built on assumptions. To reduce the level of taxation will take a tremendous effort and a full service review will help. We are very sensitive to tax increases. In 2017 and 2018 we have built in a 1 per cent decrease in residential taxes. That’s a statement that we hear people.”

“Get ready for a really complicated answer,” Johnson said. “One, stop spending. Two, stop spending now. Three, stop spending what you don’t have.”

“The service review will provide a baseline for spending,” McCormick said. “We can’t spend beyond it until new money comes in. We can’t keep going to the taxpayer. No new initiatives unless there is new money to pay for it.”

The discussion then turned to the flume project.

“As a Councillor, being associated with a $2.5 million over-run is embarrassing,” McCormick said. “We owe the citizens an apology for letting it happen.”

McCormick said there were some legitimate reasons for the over-run; it wasn’t easy to excavate the creek and the plan did change as the project went along.

“When you change on the fly there are risks. But we worked right through and spent $3 million before we got the grant money and everyone knows government grants are not retroactive.”

Overall, McCormick says, there is a lack of accountability.

“You can’t just whoops after a $2.5 million over-run.”

“The flume project was an absolute necessity,” McRae said. “There was a health and safety risk. The year before the project began you may have noticed there were practice drills run on the air raid sirens. Those were ordered because the potential for catastrophic flooding was there. The flume had failed.”

However, McRae said, it does come down to planning.

“We need proper time for a plan, policies and procedures to be in place.”

“Last night, to my disgust, a couple of councillors went into a speech about accountability and blamed city staff,” Johnson said. “I can’t believe that happened. I don’t intend to go on a witch hunt but to direct my time and energy to making it right. There was a major problem with the flume. Kimberley Creek has problems too and we’d better get it right.”