This week marks the midway point of the current term for municipal councils in British Columbia.
The Record news team of Scott Stanfield, Erin Haluschak and Terry Farrell has compiled a mid-term report of the three municipalities for this issue – Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland. This series will conclude next week, with a mid-term report on the Comox Valley Regional District.
City of Courtenay
Courtenay council accomplished its top priority late last year when the lawsuit between the City and the owners of Maple Pool campsite was settled. This year, council agreed to release the legal costs related to the approximate six-year dispute, which came in at $240,757.
“The public is still talking about that,” Mayor Larry Jangula said of the lawsuit relating to land-use and safety issues at the Headquarters Road campground, which provides low-rent housing for about 50 at-risk individuals, and which flooded in 2009 and 2010.
Jangula said another positive — be it through strong management and/or luck — has been the revival that has started to occur in the downtown core.
“There’s new stores,” he said, noting Jim’s Clothes Closet moving into Valhalla Pure, as an example. “That building has been empty for 10 years.
“There are things happening downtown which I think are very positive. It’s a number of factors that come together…We’re trying to come up with legislation (such as lowered DCCs and ‘tax holidays’) that will help people with re-development. Maybe that’s helped.”
On Nov. 15, 2014, the Courtenay electorate voted in three new councillors — David Frisch, Rebecca Lennox and Bob Wells — to join incumbents Manno Theos, Doug Hillian and Jangula. Erik Eriksson had served a previous term on council.
Looking ahead to the second half of the four-year term, Jangula is also optimistic about another priority — the proposed Braidwood supportive housing project in East Courtenay, which is intended to address a wide range of at-risk tenants.
Fred Muzin, who regularly attends meetings, feels most council members are approachable and involved in the community. He commends them for attending most events. He also thinks Jangula is an excellent mayor. There are times, however, when he feels Courtenay council is lacking in parliamentary procedure, especially when issues are contentious. For instance, regarding a recent discussion about revisions to the City’s tree protection/management bylaw, Muzin feels the original motion to postpone was manipulated into a motion to refer to staff, which in effect buries the matter until staff decides, not the elected officials.
“The councillors are conscientious and motivated, but some tend to promote their own agendas repeatedly (such as bike lanes and amalgamation), and tend to be closed-minded about other views,” Muzin said, noting Lennox’s extended absence due to illness makes it difficult to evaluate her performance. “They need to work on being more transparent. Quite often the staff, who are extremely competent, make them look good.”
“I think council is unanimous on things most of the time,” Jangula said. “I think, quite frankly, we have a positive atmosphere there, and we are working towards solutions on things. Nobody’s ever going to get everything they want, and no one is ever going to be totally happy.”
Muzin gives council a B-minus for its first half performance.
Jangula does not feel it is his job to assign council a letter grade.
“That is the job of voters,” he said.
Town of Comox
Building consensus which depends on a collaborative team-oriented style of leadership is what Paul Ives noted two years ago would be his “hallmark” as his terms as mayor.
He said public policy making, balancing of interest – public and private – takes time to deal tangible results and requires building of special relationships, and added better public engagement was initiated in the process of development.
Now two years into his – and council’s – latest term, Ives said council and senior staff have been focused on implementing their strategic plan by making significant investments in infrastructure.
On Nov. 18, 2014, Ives entered his third term in the position, along with a mix of new and returning councillors.
He noted at the mid-term mark, it has been challenging to remain under budget and on-time with large projects such as the Robb Road rebuild, Point Holmes shoreline restoration and Marina Park vitalization (totalling more than $6 million), and the Town has been fortunate to receive grants from senior levels of government to pay more than half of the costs involved.
“Our biggest success would be that we’re on target to eliminate our capital project debt by 2018, which will allow the Town to put more money into infrastructure over the coming years,” he explained, and added they have 80 km of roadway and need to replace or rebuild two to three kilometres per year at a cost of one million per kilometre.
As far as the biggest challenge to date which council has faced, the 35-year-old issue of what to do with Shakesides in Mack Laing Park tops Ives’ list.
He explained council will make an application to court for direction on what can be done with the estate fund in terms of honouring the intent of Hamilton Mack Laing.
“If all goes well, we could see this resolved in 2017.”
Looking ahead, the next two years Ives said he and council will be completing phase two of the Robb Road rebuild and phase one of the Marina Park vitalization (in 2017), and hopefully get going on the Marina Park splash park project in conjunction with Comox Rotary, Comox BIA and Canada 150 funding.
“We should see the downtown development incentives program bear some fruit with the Berwick expansion, the new 14-unit Element condo development and the 21-unit Lorne project to be continued under new ownership, along with potential mixed use residential development on the Comox Mall site.”
On a regional level, he explained council has been working diligently with the Comox Valley Regional District on water filtration, sewer capacity and solid waste management. Council has also engaged with K’ómoks First Nation on treaty settlement lands to be developed in North East Comox and with St. Joseph’s Hospital Board on the future role in seniors health care, he said.
The Record reached out to the Comox Town Residents’ Association for comment and evaluation on council’s mid-term performance, but did not receive a reply by deadline.
Village of Cumberland
Two words to describe Cumberland in the past two years could be growth and independence. The village is growing, particularly in the younger demographic, and council is giving the village a sense of independence. In the past two years, Cumberland has withdrawn from a couple of notable committees, including the Comox Valley Economic Development Society, and the South Sewer Project.
Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird says council is following the directive given by the people.
“We can provide these services cheaper on our own, and it’s been proven by our reports that this is the way to go,” said Baird. “The CVEDS decision was an election issue, and every person who was running for council said they would distance themselves from CVEDS. It was a long time coming, and a lot of thought put into it.”
From an infrastructure standpoint, water and sewage continue to be frontline topics.
“Our sewer and our water are two huge components to the village. We have done reports on them and are actually applying for funding and if we are successful it would be a huge step towards upgrading our sewage system.”
In regards to water, the Village considered joining the Comox Valley Regional District’s water supply system in 2015, but council voted the idea down.
“We have a complete system, and it provides us with enough water for growth, and for many years to come.”
Baird says council is held accountable through a very interactive community.
“Response from the community has all been very positive. Our open houses and village hall meetings are all very well attended. At the (November) skateboard park meeting, there were more than 50 people there, including children, telling us what they want to see in that park.”
“I think we are doing a very good job – all of us. It takes all of council. I would give ourselves a B, because there is always room for improvement.”
There’s at least one resident who thinks Baird is selling herself and council short.
Murray Peavey said if he were grading Village council, he would give a solid A, saying council’s accountability towards its electorate has been impressive thus far.
“They have a vision, not surprisingly,” said Peavey. “They have the official community plan and that’s a guide for them. They have a number of open forums and they have responded to the citizens’ comments at those forums. She (Baird) knows what the community wants, and she and council follow that path.”
Nick Ward, founder of cumberlandmatters.ca, said there’s very little to report of any negative consequence.
“I don’t have a great deal of disappointment,” he said. “I see challenges that need to be addressed and risen to, such as affordable housing, but those are province-wide challenges. They are not unique to Cumberland. They are actually natural consequences to having turned Cumberland into a very desirable location to live.”
Among the growing pains is the current state of the village’s downtown business core. Dunsmuir Avenue is closed to traffic while work is done to replace underground infrastructure. Work was scheduled to be completed by the end of October, but there remains much to be done before the re-opening. Much of the delay has to do with the unfavourable weather of the past two months.
Ward said any complaints about Dunsmuir Avenue are unwarranted.
“You can’t bitch and moan about the roads, and then bitch and moan when they fix them,” he said.
He complimented council on the path taken to upgrade the village’s main street.
“There was a series of investigative reports to assess the quality of infrastructure in the village… they prioritized… then went out and got the feds and the province to each contribute a third, then quite cleverly, and necessarily, tied it to sewer and water-pipe work, and the actual fixing of the roads was a consequence of that. All that was just a strategic welcome to the process.”