Encouraging downtown growth important to many Comox council candidates

Twelve candidates vying for six councillor positions discussed their vision for Comox at an all-candidates' forum.

With more than 200 people packing the multi-purpose room in the new wing of the Comox Community Centre, 12 candidates vying for six councillor positions discussed their vision for Comox at an all-candidates forum.

When asked Thursday about the No. 1 issue in the town, many candidates agreed developing and encouraging growth in the downtown core is a major issue to tackle within the next three years.

“Once we start to show a little bit more commerce in our downtown, the spinoffs from that will help our tax base,” Russ Arnott said.

Terry Chester agreed with Arnott and added he is “devastated” with what is happening with the downtown core.

“How many of your Courtenay friends say, ‘Hey, let’s go to Comox and go shopping?’ ” he asked.

Don Davis suggested returning the Marine Plaza Plan — a former section of the Official Community Plan — to revitalize the core.

Ken Grant concurred, while Dan Jackson agreed with increasing downtown traffic.

“Business will grow where there is a vision,” added Hugh MacKinnon. “Infrastructure first, then a long-term vision.”

Patti Fletcher, Barbara Price and Marcia Turner suggested that affordability/livability is their main priority in Comox, while Dave Procter said he is seeing redundancies in road equipment that could be shared between communities.

Tom Grant and Maureen Swift noted water meters as one of their main issues.

“They don’t want water meters in this town,” said Grant. “I think education, information and enforcement is the way to conserve water.”

When asked how the candidates would work to keep taxes down, Davis suggested a three-tier tax system.

“We should be running the town the exact same way we should be running your house. You’ve got necessities, beneficials and luxuries, and you give a percentage to each of those categories. That way rec centres aren’t competing against storm sewers and bicycle lanes aren’t competing against sidewalks,” he said.

Fletcher suggested looking a partnerships with federal and provincial governments. “We need to make sure we are shovel-ready to make sure we are ready to submit an application for grants that come available … that way we can continue to have a museum and an art gallery.”

Ken Grant and Tom Grant noted the benefits of zero-based budgeting.

“Accountability with our spending will be key in the next few years,” Ken Grant added, along with continuing life cycle planning.

Tom Grant said he will continue “doing what I’m doing and that’s living with our means.”

Jackson noted the Town needs to lead by example in difficult economic times. “Water meters? $10 million over 10 years. I can’t say anything more than that.”

MacKinnon also supported zero-based budgeting and added he is in favour of controlled development, while Price encouraged examining compact communities and living within the town’s means.

“Infrastructure is one of our major costs, and putting it there is probably 20 per cent of the costs, it’s the long-term costs of infrastructure that has the other 80 per cent of the cost,” she said.

Procter suggested cutting back on red tape to invest in businesses, particularly in the downtown core. “The cost of doing business is getting very expensive,” he said and added he would cut water meters.

Turner and Chester agreed with Fletcher by creating partnerships, while Maureen Swift echoed a conservative approach.

“I think we should be focusing on our needs, rather than our wants,” she said.

Many of the candidates including Ken Grant, MacKinnon and Fletcher agreed infill as outlined in the Official Community Plan is one strategy for increasing affordable housing, while Tom Grant and and Procter noted a reduction in red tape must happen to achieve more affordable housing.

Arnott suggested to look at subsidized housing as one option, while Turner agreed with Fletcher on increasing secondary suites.

The general local election is Nov. 19.