Kimberley Mayor Don McCormick says he is not a man given to looking back — he’d prefer to push forward — so when he was asked to reflect on his first year in office, he had to sit down and think about it.
McCormick came into office with a lot of goals, which after a few planning sessions with his new Council, developed into five strategic priorities.
1) new revenue; 2) financial sustainability; 3) infrastructure renewal; 4) communications; and 5) customer service.
Does he think he has been successful in making some headway on these priorities?
“That’s an unqualified yes,” he said. “It’s been a good year for making progress. I’m pretty happy with the year.”
McCormick says that if a municipal government is doing its job, the community doesn’t see it.
“It’s like if you don’t notice the referee at a hockey game, that’s a good game.
“I’m sensing we have had a year like that, aided by a spectacular tourism season.
“The other thing is the number of new families moving into town. Some of them have jobs outside Kimberley, in Cranbrook especially, but they choose to live in Kimberley. There’s been a fairly healthy increase in young families. There’s a good vibe around town.”
Also positive is the number of new retail business, the Mayor says.
“I’m pretty proud of the business community. These entrepreneurs have done it on their own, they’re building it for themselves. That’s the way it works.
“It’s a really positive environment to work in and that allows the city to get busy on providing the services people expect them to provide.”
That’s not to say there haven’t been big projects and challenges.
“The Sun Mine only began construction in January and it didn’t cause any heartburn at all. It was managed well and came in within five per cent of budget.”
McCormick says the idea of the Sun Mine was to create an image of Kimberley that could be marketed — that it had transitioned from a mining town to a progressive community.
“Our hopes for that marketing message have been exceeded,” he said, noting the two high profile awards and much media recognition.
“It’s a really positive story.”
Then there’s the flume. Last spring Council wrestled with the decision over whether to continue the project or not.
“It didn’t really feel like that big a decision at the time,” McCormick said. “Just decide because we need to move forward. Once the decision was made we had no illusions that it would be easy and it has not been. There were certain restraints within the project we had to live with and it’s been a struggle. It will look spectacular when it’s done and will be a game changer for the community, but there are still fairly substantial issues that could cause us grief.”
Which brings us to communication, which is something almost every incoming Mayor has campaigned on, and McCormick feels he has made good progress on.
“Communication is not just telling the community what the results are but telling them why we are doing things. Communicating results is difficult if the result is not what people expected. Communicating progress helps with expectations. We have tried really hard to keep the community updated on what’s going on. People know what’s going on and they appreciate it. But there’s always room for improvement.”
As for the Council he is working with, McCormick says debate is a very healthy thing and he is happy with the level of debate and discussion.
That discussion has led to decisions such as the one to allow a business license to a medical marijuana business. McCormick considers that a landmark.
“In one way, it’s just another business starting up, but it represents the kind of progressive thinking we need to move forward.
McCormick also says hiring a salesperson to drive business to the conference centre is critical. Currently, between a $140,000 operating subsidy, repayment of the debt and maintenance, the city coughs up about $300,000 a year for the amenity. That’s not acceptable, McCormick says.
“We’ve got a salesman to drive conferences and that’s key, but we are being realistic about how soon the affect will be seen. Conferences usually book a year out.
Overall, does he give Council and himself a passing grade in the first year?
“Absolutely. For a first year, there has been a lot of work, and to be honest, financially the city is not in great shape. We can’t maintain the status quo, you can’t continuously go back to the same tax base. We need new revenue. It’s a difficult problem to fix but we’re working on it. We’ve made headway with infrastructure, mainly with sewer and water. The rate changes have already got us to the point where the reserves are sustainable. The big challenge is the general fund, where we spend money on paving, fixing roads.
“It’s unrealistic to expect to fund all infrastructure out of operating funds. With interest rates at historic lows, our ability to borrow is high. So Mike Fox is putting together a roads maintenance plan. We’ll look at whether it makes sense to borrow in some cases.”
Also coming up is union negotiations, with the contract up for renewal in March of 2016. That will have a long-term effect on the budget as well, McCormick says.
Also underway is an asset assessment.
“We have a number of critical assets. If you wait until something breaks, which is what happened with the Marysville Arena, it’s difficult to not fix it. An asset assessment helps us set priorities. What is the cost of bringing this asset up to spec? And it helps us decide this is where we are going to spend our money. It eliminates surprises.”
With all the work, and all the challenges, McCormick is enjoying his time as Mayor.
“I really am enjoying it. I am trying to be out and about as much as I can, talking to people, keeping up with what the thoughts of the community are. People are very generous with their opinions, both positive and critical.
“The main thing I love about this job is that it’s all about the community. How will this affect the community? That’s the measurement for everything we do.”