'09 Year in Review: Message from the Mayor
Ed. Note: The following is Lawrence Chernoff’s annual mayor’s report to council, delivered at council’s regular meeting Dec. 21:
Our current city council has completed its first year of its term of office, and I would like to acknowledge and thank all members of council for their cooperation. Our community has been well-served by your collective willingness to participate in the wide variety of issues that confront the community. Your active participation in our committees is very much appreciated. A city council is expected to have a variety of viewpoints, and I appreciate the fact that each of you is willing to voice your opinion and at the same time recognize that council is a team effort. Establishing priorities and making decisions is crucial to community successes.
Our city experienced a number of events in the past year – some good, some bad. In many ways, our community experienced some of the world wide troubles and challenges. The world economy suffered enormous economic declines and our economy was not immune to those pressures.
A major employer – Celgar – suffered extensive operating losses and as part of that have not paid their annual municipal taxes to date. Council has been sympathetic to the mill’s plight and while all taxes must be paid, council is supportive of the mill’s long term viability.
In addition council continues to be concerned over the future re-opening of Interfor. To that end, council has been reviewing its tax load on all industry and looking to see how our taxes compare with our neighbouring communities. For a number of years, our taxpayers have enjoyed the lowest taxes in the West Kootenays. In looking to assist our major employer, council is looking at a variety of measures to reduce our municipal expenditures and distribute the tax load more equally among all groups of taxpayers.
In February, council adopted a set of strategic objectives that outlined a number of measures to begin with the goal of providing economic diversity to our community. These included:
Integrated Comprehensive Sustainability Plan (ICSP): The work has begun with group of volunteers meeting to identify a number of issues around the three pillars of sustainability. A number of meetings have been held with planning consultants and work is well underway. The plan, which will update the city’s Official Community Plan, is expected to be complete by mid-summer, 2010;
Economic Development: council has moved forward with a new marketing initiative for the city. This will give further strength to the city’s efforts to attract new investment to our community, to increase our tourist trade and to open new marketing opportunities. It has also allowed the city to partner successfully with our Chamber of Commerce and the West Kootenay Regional Airport to reinforce our branding initiative. The city also supported our Spirit 150 Committee in the production of a YVR Vancouver Airport video that promotes the city to passengers travelling through the Vancouver airport. Council has also directed a new advertising campaign for new commercial investment that will be ready in early winter 2010;
Community Events: This past year, council and staff undertook a number of very-well-received public events. These events were aimed at providing family entertainment such as Winterfest, our very successful Toboggan Hill event and the big-screen movie night in Millennium Park. Thanks to our many volunteers and corporate supporters, who provided generators and mobile lights and burners, the events were a lot of fun and attracted very good numbers of young and old alike. In addition, the city undertook a number of ‘green’ events, such as our Water Day, Earth Hour Challenge, Compost Day and our Light Bulb Exchange Day. These events were also well received and the city benefitted from great partnerships with Fortis, CBT, CPC and the Regional District of Central Kootenay. In addition, council continued its support of the annual SunFest program with the new Castlegar Street Dance;
Emergency Beacon Project: The city was fortunate to secure the requisite funding this year to undertake the Airport Emergency Beacon project. It is intended to lower aircraft landing limits, ensure fewer flight cancellations, and allow for night time medivac in the community. Construction has been completed and testing of the system is underway;
Airport Development: There are three main areas of activity at the Airport. First, council moved forward with solidifying the airport operations as a regional facility through renaming and undertaking new promotional activities for the airport itself. Second, council continued to push for the construction of the Community Gaming Centre. Due to events beyond council’s control, construction of the facility has been delayed and council is looking forward to the start of the construction in the spring of 2010. Finally, council has been continuing to work towards the commercial development of the south portion of the airport lands. To this end, council has developed and received the required approvals for the extension of services across the river. Provision of these services will increase the area’s attractiveness for new commercial investment;
Cultural Initiatives: The city has increased its support for cultural initiatives this past year in a number of ways. New initiatives included funding for the ‘Cultural Affair’, which provided a common event for all of the area’s cultural events to display their interests to the public and meet with other cultural groups in the area. In addition, council continued its significant support for the Doukhobor Discovery Centre, the Kootenay Art Gallery and the Heritage Society for the operation of the Museum and Zuckerberg Island. In addition, council also provided financial support to the Blueberry Youth program and the youth centre and the library. The city also continued its support of the Community Gardens through land availability and some in-kind support.
Broadband: council has sought to extend use of the city’s fibre optic network. To this end, staff completed connections to the library and to the firehall this year. This has resulted in increased stable connections for both buildings and has greatly assisted the library with the implementation of the new province-wide indexing/loan system. The city is also having discussions with the provincial government to see if there are any funding partnerships to go to the ‘last stop’ connecting to our business sector. The city is also discussing provision of service to our business community though a private sector partner;
Water Management Plan: Phase 1 of the Water Management Plan was completed this year. Implementation on various elements has begun. Phase 2 of the water plan addresses the significant capital costs attached to the city’s water system and was received by council in November;
Tangible Capital Asset Management: Changes in public accounting regulations has required the city to inventory all capital assets and revise the city’s accounting procedures. The inventory has been completed and staffs is currently assigning initial values for depreciation accounting to the city’s many capital assets;
New Capital Construction: The city also moved forward on a longstanding issue – construction of 16th Avenue. This is a critical part of the city’s road network plan that will, eventually, provide a second alternate north/south route to Columbia Avenue. In the short term, it has provided access to the Grandview Heights subdivision and enabled plans for an assisted housing project to proceed;
Communities In Bloom: The city (now a four-bloom community) also benefitted from the many volunteer hours provided by the Communities In Bloom committee. In turn, the city provided significant financial and staff support to help make Castlegar better than ever.
That council was able to undertake our new initiatives and maintain existing commitments despite the non-payment of taxes by Celgar is a tribute to the city’s finances and, more importantly, to our team pulling together. It is a reflection of our community’s great volunteer ethic, that enabled so many of these activities to proceed at minimal cost to the city. Although we had our difficulties, I believe that the city has advanced on a number of fronts and look forward to next year’s events, including our celebration of the Olympic Torch as it passes through our city, and hosting the 2010 Association of Kootenay Boundary Local Government annual conference in Castlegar in April.
I would like to express my sincere thanks to all staff for all their hard work and time during the past year which, at times, was difficult and complicated.
Staff is our biggest asset in developing our community … what it is today, and in the future.
However, I want to assure everybody that council continues to work through this scenario with meetings of provincial ministers, corporations and the UBCM on a regular basis to bring resolution. The communication is open, but tedious and time consuming.
We are progressing. It has been both a privilege and honour to serve as your mayor.
In conclusion, I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!