Cumberland candidates have their say

The Cumberland All Candidates Meeting was held Thursday evening

Cumberland residents had the opportunity to hear from their mayoral and council candidates Thursday evening at the Cumberland Cultural Centre.

Both mayoral candidates – incumbent Leslie Baird and Eduardo Uranga – were present to share their views and ideas, as well as the seven council candidates. All four current councillors are vying for another four year term, including Jesse Ketler, Roger Kishi, Gwyn Sproule and Sean Sullivan. Newcomers to the council race are Vickey Brown, Eric Krejci and Ian McLean.

Those in attendance had the opportunity to submit their name to ask a question in one of the five categories: infrastructure and zoning, economic development, environment, social, and recreation and culture. Names were chosen at random.

Q – In light of the expenditures for the much-needed water upgrades for treatment, and the resulting property tax increase needed to pay for it, are there other places and departments where they can reduce spending to thus either stabilize or reduce future tax increases?

Sullivan, Kishi, Ketler and McLean all agreed that there are no areas they would cut funding as a lot of careful consideration goes into the allocation of resources. Brown added she would like to see a review of planning fees and services to see where grant money could be used to decrease the need for taxes in certain areas.

Sproule does not see it as a need for cutting funding, but rather as a need for more commercial industry.

“The big problem with our infrastructure and paying for it is approximately 80 per cent of our tax base comes from residential properties and very little from industrial and commercial because these areas are still very small,” she said. “We really need to diversify the tax base by finding ways to develop the light industrial lands… to provide well paying jobs and ease the tax burden on residents.”

Krejci suggested there are possibilities of sharing “big ticket items” with neighbouring municipalities, such as street sweepers and specialty equipment.

Baird emphasizes that the budgeting process is considered carefully but adds she would support reducing developer subsidies.

“At this point we are actually subsidizing developers in this community and they need to bear their share, and in that process, we will have enough money to pay wages of the planners that are working for the Village.”

Uranga was the only candidate to suggest spending in the Village is too high and there are lots of areas to improve, such as reducing the amount of money spent on paying Village employee wages.

“After looking at the financial statements from last year, the taxes that we collect are barely enough to cover the payroll. That’s an item that needs to be truly scrutinized… It’s impossible to think that we can hardly afford anything else besides the people who work at the municipality,” he said.

Q – What changes, if any, would you make to the bylaw zoning which states where you can and cannot have an Airbnb or vacation rental?

McLean said if the Village is allowing vacation rentals to decrease available housing, they need to have a strategy to add additional housing into the market.

Baird and Kishi agreed that vacation rentals are still relatively new and there isn’t enough information out there about their effect on communities. Kishi suggested they look at other communities and their approach to vacation rentals.

Baird added that council needs to decide if they want to focus on creating housing or accommodation for visitors to the Village.

Brown, Sproule and Ketler said limiting the number of vacation rentals could be a possibility.

In terms of the amount of tourist accommodation in the Village, Sproule, Ketler, Krejci and Sullivan agreed there isn’t currently enough, and vacation rentals bring in more people to bolster Cumberland’s economy.

“I absolutely support that as an economic driver,” said Sullivan. “We don’t have very many beds in town… We’re going to look at best practices. I think maybe some of the regulations we could look at that other communities have looked at are the proprietor having live on site.”

Uranga also talked about imposing restrictions such as the size of the vacation rental, and turning larger properties into affordable housing.

Q – Where do you stand on the fire hall issue – should it be done sooner or later?

While every candidate agreed on the need for a new fire hall, there were some differences in opinions on how soon is should be completed.

Krejci said the building should have been completed “yesterday” and adds Cumberland’s firefighters need and deserve better.

For Kishi, building a new fire hall is a health and safety issue and is a top priority. He said without an adequate fire hall, Village insurance rates could go up, which he does not want to see happen.

McLean said he believes this is an issue that should be brought forward to the community, as they will be footing the bill.

Sproule, Baird and Brown agreed that the issue with a new fire hall is finding the money; Brown suggested looking into options to build the fire hall in stages. Baird added that she has spoken to Premier John Horgan about potential provincial funding for the fire hall and hopes he will continue the discussion.

Uranga said he is not in favour of increasing the Village’s debt for the fire hall and they need to create a design that will make it more affordable.

Ketler and Sullivan both spoke about the possibility of creating a fire hall design that could have multiple uses. Ketler said they need to spend more time considering the design to reduce the financial burden of the project on the Village.

“I was not in favour of moving forward with the final design of the fire hall because I really feel we haven’t explored all the avenues and looked at all the partnerships that we could have, including BC Ambulance and possibly multi-use,” she said.

Q – Will you be supporting the ban of single-use plastic bags for both Cumberland and the Comox Valley?

All candidates but one immediately said yes to the question.

Uranga is in support of more environmentally friendly options, but will not support a ban until there is a suitable replacement.

“I’m not in favour of banning single-use shopping bags without a replacement. It’s just not practical. I will offer an alternative with bio-bags (a biodegradable shopping bag),” he said.

Baird said she has already talked to local business owners about the potential ban and they were all on board.

“I assured them that if council approved this, they would have a six-month lead time to get rid of the [single-use plastic] products they have now. Some of them have already started,” she said.

Kishi originally brought the issue forward to council and said he strives to use less single-use plastics in his own life and is heartened to see other businesses already starting to limit their plastics.

Q – What kind of light industry are you looking to attract and also, are you looking at providing any tax breaks to these light industries that come in?

For Uranga and Sproule, light industry means environmentally friendly businesses. Uranga spoke about the need to reduce the Village’s carbon footprint and encourage manufacturing of environmentally friendly materials. Sproule added that the BC government has billions of dollars set aside to fund green innovation and she believes Cumberland is the perfect location for green ventures.

Kishi said the Village needs more tax revenue from the industrial sector and added there is an opportunity to develop uses for landfill gases. Sullivan agreed that there is an opportunity for producers to harness the energy of those methane gases.

Sullivan and Brown stated that they do not agree with tax breaks for light industries.

“I don’t think that’s necessary. I think there are people looking to come and I think there are other ways we could facilitate them coming,” she said. “I also would be in favour of encouraging just generally entrepreneurial development in the Village so that that helps build partnerships and potential synergy between existing industries.”

Baird said it is important to attract the businesses that the Village wants in order to create good jobs for residents. Krejci added that Cumberland is the perfect place for growing companies and there needs to be more opportunities for residents to find work in the Village.

Ketler said there is a lack of food manufacturing facilities in the Valley, as well as food storage and processing facilities for the agriculture sector.

McLean said Cumberland’s location next to the highway makes it a prime spot for transportation and distribution companies, but added the Village should be taking advantage of its talented population.

“I think it’s really important that we explore our existing [industries],” he said. “We have some really talented artists, we have some really talented people and to explore a cottage craft industry has to be something we look at.”

Q – At the end of prohibition of cannabis, how are you going to bring revenue into the village with that?

Krejci and McLean said cannabis retailers definitely need to be regulated, but the newness of it creates a lot of unknowns.

McLean questioned if it should be regulated like liquor, something that Uranga agreed with.

“Same regulations [as alcohol] should apply to marijuana – not to restrict it differently,” said Uranga. “It’s simply the same thing, just a different situation. Not allowing it to thrive will cause the loss of the business.”

Baird said she is pleased with the progress of council on the cannabis zoning bylaw and looks forward to receiving proposals from potential cannabis retailers.

Ketler said offering Temporary Use Permits instead of rezoning lots leaves a lot of the discretion up to council on which applicants will be accepted. She also mentioned that businesses will have to offer a proposal on how they will benefit the community.

Kishi spoke about the work council has already done, including setting a business licence fee. He and Sullivan also spoke about the social procurement policy and the benefit that could bring to the community.

“Our social procurement policy is going to be part of that process,” said Kishi. “What we’re looking for out of that is that there will be community benefit to the Village with retail cannabis outlets.”

Sproule said the Village got their “ducks in a row early” and they are prepared for the cannabis legalization date with policies and safety rules.

Q – The great work that the Cumberland Museum and Archives has done with their history has too long relied on volunteers and underpaid staff for the economic development that it generates. Would you support increased funding in the Village budget to change this and help it become a net positive contributor in our Village bottom line?

Ketler, Sproule, Brown and Sullivan believe history and culture is very important in Cumberland and worth supporting with an increase in funding.

Kishi added that there needs to be a more formal process of supporting the museum rather than providing funding through community grants, which are limited. Baird adds that a more formal process for funding the museum would set it up for more sponsorship.

McLean agreed with Baird and added funding from the Village is essential for donors to feel secure in contributing long-term.

Uranga believes other buildings in the Village centre should be remodeled to emphasize Cumberland’s rich history and drive more people to the museum.

Krejci believes funding for the museum is important, but the Village has more urgent needs at this time, such as a new fire hall.

“For the Village to fund more money towards the museum when we have an ailing fire hall, I think we need to deal with the fire hall first,” he said. “We can’t afford to put more money out until our boys are in a new fire hall.”

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