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Residents voice budget opinions, but was city hall and council listening?

Once city councillor wagered (wrongly) that no more than 50 Revelstoke residents would attend the Jan. 14 City of Revelstoke Town Hall. About 125 filled the Seniors Centre.    - Alex Cooper/Revelstoke Times Review
Once city councillor wagered (wrongly) that no more than 50 Revelstoke residents would attend the Jan. 14 City of Revelstoke Town Hall. About 125 filled the Seniors Centre.
— image credit: Alex Cooper/Revelstoke Times Review

Residents filled the Revelstoke Seniors Centre on Jan. 14 for City Council’s town hall meeting on the 2014 budget.

Many took the time to come to the microphone and say what they’d like to be cut from the budget, or what they’d like to be left alone. They asked for higher level of services – like more snow clearing. They pointed out places where they felt the city could be more efficient. They offered lots of helpful suggestions, many of which are listed below.

The response to the speakers’ input drew the most comment and concern. For the most part, they were allowed to speak themselves out, and only sporadic responses came from council or city staff.

“When will we get answers? Otherwise we’re wasting our time,” said resident Jessica Klikach of the unusual, one-sided conversation.

In fact, gauging the level of public interest and engagement in affairs at city hall is a central debate. Over at the Revelstoke Current, editor David Rooney won $100 off of councillor Chris Johnston after the journalist bet correctly that more than 100 people would show up for the town hall. Johnston took a wager with no perceivable upside for a possible incumbent in the 2014 election. He bet that not more than 50 people in Revelstoke cared enough to show up for the town hall. Rooney was happy to publish a photo of Johnston handing over two $50 notes.

Up until late 2013, the City of Revelstoke rarely issued media releases, or used their social media tools for anything other than posting committee meeting times or community centre events like yoga class schedules.

A relative flurry of media statements has ensued, including a message the next day on Jan. 15, that announced council would deliberate on the public comments at a special meeting on Jan. 21. City officials hope to approve the budget by Jan. 28, the City of Revelstoke said in the media release.

One can make many observations about the meeting. A few rise to the top. For example, it’s clear it’s an election year. The campaigning is underway. Residents want more efficient services. They’re very sure city hall could be doing the same job for less money. These are a few observations.

If you had to pick just one story from the meeting, it’s that council and senior city staff once again struggled to connect with the community in this rare public appearance, despite trying to reach out more.

Residents provided their budget input

Here are comments from the majority of speakers who provided comments at the Jan. 14 town hall. They are brief summaries:

Nelli Richardson said the city needs to keep funding the social development coordinator. She read out a long list of accomplishments by coordinator Jill Zacharis. The coordinator does lots of community-wide work that individual agencies don’t have time for, said Richardson.

Doug Hamilton is concerned about snow removal around Selkirk Gardens, where he lives.

Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce executive director Judy Goodman wants business and light industrial tax rates lowered, targeting a 2:1 ratio compared to residential.

Wanda Watson is concerned about city taxpayers paying for a highway rescue truck and about snowplowing in Columbia Park.

Connie Brothers is concerned about city resources paying for a highway rescue truck.

Arvid Zakary asked about city lawsuits, asking how much they are costing the city. Mayor Raven replied: “There were no multi-million dollar lawsuits last year, and that’s all I’m saying.”

Pat Wells said the city should sell the golf course and they should build a marina instead of expanding the airport runway. He said the snow removal priority appears to be the route to the ski hill and not residential streets.

Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce board president Steve Bailey said the tax system and the budget are not conducive to public feedback. He felt the city should consolidate revenue streams and provide more detailed expense information.

Brad Faucett was on hand to represent volunteer firefighters.

Bill Shuttleworth is concerned about the cost of the fire department acting as first responders. “How much do they cost and what do we get for it?”

Scott Duke said the city provides great services, but would like to see it done for less. “We spend $20 million, can we do it for $19 million?” he asked. It was one of many questions that went without a reply.

Don Teuton said he spent four hours reviewing budget documents and hopes council gets more information than what’s available. He’s willing to put in time to help out with the budget.

Kevin Coulter said nobody minds paying for taxes if we get something for it. He said the city is hiring too many high priced people: “We’re a simple community. We’ve been a simple community for 60 years. Let’s get back to it.”

Dennis Holdener countered accusations that the city has been spending heavily on the golf course, saying people are being allowed to say things that aren’t true, and that it wasn’t the case.

James Walford said that council should move council chambers back to city hall.

Peter Humphreys felt the city should stick with core services such as infrastructure. He felt the city wastes too much money on consultants and that they should do more in-house. He felt the capital budget documents don’t provide enough details.

Peter Bernacki said the city needs to follow up on people’s suggestions. He said the city can’t keep jacking up taxes because the cost of living is going up but wages aren’t.

Revelstoke Mountain Resort general manager Rob Elliott said he recognized the challenge of the budget process. He said the city needs to factor in assessment adjustments into budget because Northland Properties will continue to appeal their assessments. He noted the city collected $7.9 million in tax money, about $1.5–$2 million of that came from resort lands.

Greg Hoffart of Tree Construction said the city needs to lower development cost charges (DCCs). He said the costs are $25,000 to start building a single-family home here, adding lower DCCs would help people build homes.

Glen O’Reilly pushed for lower DCCs. He said his contracting company has lost work due to high DCC costs. He said more accountability is needed. For example, the courthouse roof consultant should have been held accountable for not noticing lead paint.

Scott Renaud said he has serious concerns about amount of capital equipment the city owns. He said the city owns lots of equipment that doesn’t get used very much. “We have more equipment than we ever had and it seems like we’re doing less with it.”

Stuart Andrews wants to see a long-term plan for court house.

Susan Teuton said she is curious about RCMP and fire department budgets, noting they are costly.

Bart Larson of Mt. Begbie Brewing Co. said the city should simplify and reduce expenditures. He said he doesn’t feel like the city listened to feedback from past financial focus groups. Larson said communication can be greatly improved.

Angelo Brunetti set off one of the more interesting exchanges. He said the city should reduce staff, to which Mayor David Raven replied the city had reduced staff by 25 per cent by attrition.

Brett Renaud wondered why the budget for city salaries is going up if staff numbers have been reduced by 25 per cent.

Bill Macfarlane expressed support for the city’s social development coordinator.

Bob Melnyk said the city does not not operate efficiently and they should sell city hall and move into court house.

Victoria Long expressed her support for the social development position, saying wonderful things have come from it.

– with notes from Alex Cooper

 

 

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