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 – 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.