Kimberley’s Mayor Don McCormick gave a state of the city address at Centre 64 on the evening of Wednesday, Feb. 5. The main objective of his presentation was to define the role of the municipality, detail the city’s five core strategic priorities as defined by Council, to discuss some data the city has gathered and to let people know what they can expect for Kimberley in 2020.
The five strategic points or priority areas for the city are infrastructure renewal, financial accountability, facilitating a diverse economy, core services and reducing environmental impact.
The city is operating with a budget of about $26 million in 2020. McCormick stressed the importance of balancing service levels, infrastructure renewals and reasonable taxation. He said that the city needs to evolve in a way that fits the needs of the community.
With regards to the priority of infrastructure renewal, McCormick spoke of the importance of using data and facts to make decisions on what investments to make and evidence-based tools to help prioritize projects, based on condition, risk, service level and future growth.
Some of the key areas the city needs to address include their fleet and equipment, which has about 13 per cent life left, and the city’s buildings which have about 38 per cent of their life left.
Two important buildings the Mayor highlighted were the Civic Centre and Centennial Hall. McCormick said that when important community markers such as these look tired and in poor repair, it makes the community itself feel the same way.
He referred to the 2014 election campaign when most of those who were running were adamant about infrastructure renewal and trying to figure out how to tackle it with a large deficit. He said that “it wasn’t a sky-falling scenario, but there was a really, really high sense of urgency.”
“Interestingly, over the last two or three years, it’s become a little less miserable. It’s not quite as out there, but I can assure you the sense of urgency and the challenge that’s in front of us is just as high as what it was in 2014. It’s important to know that we are in fact making headway.”
“Infrastructure renewal,” McCormick said, “it’s big, it’s not something that can happen over night it took 50 or 60 years to dig the hole that we’re in. That hole is deep enough that we’re not going to get out in anything less than probably 25 or 30 years, but it’s important that we have a plan and that we make progress on the plan so it’s not impacting the things that we do year over year.”
Using data and the asset management investment plan, the city is able to prioritize what jobs need to be done rather than waiting until something breaks before fixing it.
The core services of water, sewers, storms, roads and garbage are a priority every year. Resources that are tied up in non-core assets are renewed annually. City staff make decisions pertaining to core-services related projects and are supported by Council. McCormick used the quote “In order to say yes to your priorities, you have to be willing to say no to something else,” to describe this process.
“As a community you don’t necessarily see all of these things, but I think that it’s important to know that we don’t just rest on what we’re doing, that we’re constantly looking at ways that we can be more efficient with what we’re doing.”
Financial accountability primarily came down to taxation. The City’s goal is to stay within the two per cent municipal rate of inflation.
One of the interesting graphs the Mayor showed indicated that of the 13 major municipalities in the East Kootenay, Kimberley relies the most on residential tax, 87 per cent of the revenue the City gets is residential based. This is simply because there is essentially zero industrial tax to draw from, so we are a “slave to residential tax,” and the city must try desperately to stay within that 2 per cent rate of inflation.
Another key point he mentioned was that our economic driver is tourism, and tourism doesn’t generate tax dollars directly, it just generates disposable income in the community that businesses get. This is why diversification and expanding the business base is so important, it’s the only foreseeable solution.
He highlighted the top-10 major corporate tax payers in the city, with Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (RCR) topping the list by a long shot at about $250,000 a year they pay in taxes to the city. Number two on the list, somewhat surprisingly was Teck, who still pay about $140,000 in taxes ever year.
“Everybody thought Teck left town in 2001, and the fact is they didn’t. Not only do they run their national reclamation business out of Kimberley, they’ve got somewhere between 20 and 30 employees operating out of the old concentrator area, combinations of employees and contractors and they still own a lot of taxable land that is in the area.”
After Teck, it drops off with the next highest taxpayer being Sullivan Landing Dev Corp at $47,000. Save-on-Foods pays about $46,000, but next year that number will spike dramatically with the new store, currently under construction.
The city also took in $988,000 in revenue from the sale of 14 residential and four commercial raw lots.
“Once those lots were sold we immediately began collecting taxes on the raw land and every single one of those properties has had improvements built on them, either houses or mixed-use commercial and we are now collecting taxes on that basis as well.”
The Conference Centre, which is in its third year of its agreement with RCR, eliminated $100,000 in annually subsidy. The sale of the Sun Mine to Teck retired $2 million in debt, which gets the City’s investment back, and the city saves $125,000 annually in debt and interest payments.
“That’s already been a win, but the big win is going to be the expansion,” McCormick said. “The whole reason behind wanting to find a partner like Teck was to get it expanded from one to two megawatts and beyond.”
Definitive agreement discussions are underway with regards to the sale of Bootleg Golf Course and the Riverside Campground. Assuming the agreements close, the city will end up with another $6 million, which will be used to top up key reserves that are at their minimum, with the balance going into the Kimberley reserve which can be used to leverage grant funding.
“I appreciate that with respect to both Bootleg and the campground, there are some really strong emotional ties to both of those assets and I can only emphasize again, they’re not going anywhere. In fact I know that those proponents that are negotiating, the definitive agreement, are going to invest in the assets and ensure that at a minimum you will continue to see the level of management at those assets that you are used to.”
Kimberley is sitting comfortably in what McCormick called the “affordable range” of single family dwelling assessment at $303,000, the exact same as Cranbrook, and with Fernie topping the list at $553,000. This marked a seven per cent increase in value.
The population of Kimberley increased 20.9 per cent from 2011 to 2016, the tenth fastest in the province. In 2019, 72 new residents came to the city, a 0.9 per cent increase. The housing supply, which grew by 83 new dwelling units, kept up with this increase.
With regards to the objective of facilitating economic diversity, aligning with strategic priorities and staying within the spending envelope, McCormick said that the CAO made the decision to reorganize the city’s departments to maximize economic impact.
“If you think about somebody coming and investing in the community, from a commercial or business point of view, land availability and cost, taxation, the permitting processes, the openness of the municipality to do business, construction costs and gaps and opportunities — these are the factors that mostly impact.”
A few of the sample development initiatives the mayor listed include the Teck lands strategy, the CPR lands in Marysville and the Purcell international College.
McCormick said he has been trying for the past two years to find a hotel developer to put up a desperately needed new hotel in Kimberley. Through data analysis they found that much of Kimberley’s tourism comes from day trips, meaning we are bleeding accommodation revenue to Cranbrook.
Tourism continues to drive the economy and this needs to be maintained and enhanced and a strong retail community needs to be fostered. Tourism can’t however be the only option for a job, as not everyone is an entrepreneur, the jobs themselves are often low paying and seasonal.
McCormick said he is extremely proud of the initiatives that have been put in place over the last dozen years pertaining to minimizing environmental impact, from adding two charging stations, implementing a hybrid bylaw vehicle, wildfire management, expanding recycling and the steady decline in carbon emissions.
This is the fifth year the Mayor has made a state of the city address, presented by the Chamber of Commerce. He also reminded his audience that he hosts a Brown Bag Lunch on the second Wednesday of every month, where people can meet with him and the CAO to learn about the City’s operations and other functions.