Splitting on the issue of water meters, Comox Mayor Paul Ives and first-time mayoral candidate Bernie Poole debated their strategies for the future of the town Thursday during the all-candidates’ forum at the Comox Community Centre.
Emphasizing infill development, sustainable infrastructure and a commitment to streamlining the building permit process, Ives said he hopes to continue collaborating with council and outside partnerships that have given the town a variety of benefits over the past term.
“We have a new fire truck, a new cultural centre and a new park, all through partnerships which have been key,” he said, and noted the completion of the Official Community Plan, bike lanes on Comox Avenue and the the Community Centre expansion.
“Our volunteer water meter program is a $1.5-million dollar project that will be completed early next year and we’ve been able to meter 1,400 homes — 30 per cent of the town,” he said. “And that will pay dividends, and we’ve funded that through a regional district grant, as well as gas tax money.”
Relying on his more than 30 years of experience in the Royal Canadian Air Force, Poole said despite his lack of council experience, he is prepared to to tackle the duties of mayor and fairly represent the wishes of the majority.
“I’ve had somebody ask me … where’s your experience? Thirty-two years a veteran RCAF of the Canadian Forces. During that 32 years, many times I was posted to a job with all of the qualifications, but no experience, and I did it damn well, I’ll tell you that,” he noted.
Asked what the main issue is that needs to be addressed in the town, Ives noted downtown growth, while Poole remained adamant against water meters.
“We really need to look at our downtown. You can go there on a Saturday afternoon at four o’clock and half the businesses are closed and it’s pretty much roll up the sidewalks at six,” said Ives. “We need to get more people living down there, we need to look at density, we need to look at livability. All of those things tie in with a vibrant downtown.”
“Show me the money,” said Poole. “The first thing I would do as mayor is to ensure that not one more dime is spent on water meters. We would then have money looking forward 10 years ahead of us that $1 million a year that this present council and mayor has decided he wants to do to use for infrastructure spending.”
He added he would also open a dialogue with downtown business owners and the owner of the Comox Centre Mall to aid with downtown revitalization.
On the topic of keeping taxes down, Ives noted he has worked hard to balance the budget, and highlighted smart use of debt.
“Low debt in the town is reflective of a pay-as-you-go mentality that the Town has had for a number of years. If debt is approved, for things like libraries and rec centres, it’s as short of a term as possible to keep the interest costs down,” he said.
Poole noted he has spoken with developers who are discouraged to build in the town, and hopes to improve the tax base and encourage development.
“I have personally talked to developers over the past few years who have fled our town because of the unfriendly environment that they find when they approach our Town for approval for very good plans that wouldn’t ruin the environment, that wouldn’t ruin the town, but would bring dollars to our town. We need to improve that access,” he said.
During closing statements, Ives corrected Poole’s statement of the money being spent on the water meter program.
“It’s not a $10-million program. It’s about conserving water and saving the town money,” he noted. “There’s fiscal, environmental and social aspects of a community, and if we can’t sustain it, we certainly can’t afford it.”
Poole reiterated his position against water meters, and added without meters, the town would not be depleting an aquifer.
“It will be a burden,” he said.