2019 looks good: Kimberley Mayor
By Nowell Berg
After a solid win in the October local government elections, an enthusiastic Don McCormick takes on a second term as Kimberley’s Mayor.
Not withstanding the issues facing the city and residents, McCormick’s vision for the next four years is to continue the “momentum” from the last council.
He points to the 2018 building permit numbers as a strong indication “people want to live in Kimberley.”
While numbers for 2018 will not be finalized until early next year, McCormick expects them to be at the same level as 2017; $14 to $15 million. “Two very, very strong years back-to-back.”
Based on solid growth, the building permit numbers “represent confidence in the community.”
McCormick said several construction projects will soon be underway and contribute to another impressive year. Responding to the tight housing market, builders will construct four multi-unit residential projects located on Mark Street, Rotary Drive, Sullivan Landing and Blarchmont that will ease the lack of rental and affordable housing.
Getting the Official Community Plan (OCP) updated was “a very important project, a milestone,” he said. The OCP “guides council and staff in the decision-making process” to help facilitate the development of an affordable and sustainable fire smart city.
Two important changes to city assets, the Conference Centre and SunMine, will benefit taxpayers and the community in the years to come.
With the Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (RCR) taking over operation of the Conference Centre (CC), the budgeted dollars that went toward its operation are now freed up for other uses. The “taxpayer subsidy” for the CC was $100,000 (one per cent of the mill rate). “We gain that back,” McCormick said.
He also noted the RCR deal is a “win-win all around” as the centre now has the management, sales and marketing resources needed to “move forward.” More events, more visitors, more economic spin-off.
Teck Resources signed a letter of intent to purchase the SunMine, which is “a big deal for taxpayers.” As well, 79% of voters said “yes” in the October referendum on the question of selling SunMine.
Notwithstanding the “good vibe” around town, a robust and growing retail sector and a “feeling things are really good right now,” McCormick learned several important things from the mid-August wildfire evacuation alert.
Up until that time, he had heard business activity was “stellar” based on increasing tourist numbers. With the announcement of the evacuation alert, “Everybody left town.”
The uncertainty created by the alert put a large dent into what was on pace to be a record year in retail activity.
For McCormick, the alert exposed two significant vulnerabilities faced by the city and community, the vagaries of tourism and the destructive impact of wildfire.
Kimberley’s susceptibility to tourists changing plans on short notice due to unforeseen events or other external factors creates economic vulnerability. Part of McCormick’s activity for this next term; “Continue to be aggressive on diversifying our economy.”
The significant reliance on tourism needs to be supplemented by other sectors to help broaden the tax base and support a stable future for the community.
The threat from wildfire could put the city and community in great danger. The August evacuation alert, due to the Meachen Creek fire, really “brought to the fore how the community is exposed if we get any kind of uncontrolled wildfire coming up the St. Mary Valley,” said McCormick.
Over the past 12 years, the city, Fire Department and other agencies have worked to “build a fire interface around Kimberley.” A well prepared forest interface would reduce the likelihood of fire reaching the city. “The one thing we can control is the interface, so if a fire is roaring it stops in its tracks when it hits the community.
“All the work done to date [on the fire interface] is only 10% of what needs to be done. We’re exposed and we need to fix that. We need to ramp it up. It’s a big priority for 2019.”
One event that caused a negative impact on residents, while not directly affecting the city, was fallout from the legalization of cannabis.
The federal governments exclusion of medical marijuana from legalization created “a significant impact on community.” The two medical marijuana stores in the city closed and were unable to help seniors, cancer patients and others dealing with pain management issues.
The federal government’s approach of not legalizing edibles “shut out a large portion of the community who gain great benefit from the medical use of cannabis.” After the interview with McCormick, the federal government announced marijuana-laced edibles will become legal in October 2019.
Removing medical marijuana may force pain sufferers back onto “narcotic opiate medication” to control pain, while the country struggles to deal with opiate drug overdoses. “We’re in midst of an opiate crisis and we force people back [to opiates] because they can’t access medical marijuana,” said McCormick.
“They spent 40 years and billions of dollars to get people to stop smoking [tobacco], yet that’s the preferred path the federal government has taken for legalized cannabis,” he added.
Over the past four years, the city has formulated a strategic plan to deal with the infrastructure deficit-roads, water, sewer and solid waste management. Currently at the design phase and several years away from completion, the Waste Water Treatment project, the largest in city history, will require commitments from taxpayers and utility users.
(At the time of this writing, Kimberley city council had not yet completed strategic planning and prioritizing capital projects for 2019.)
Looking ahead, McCormick anticipates another strong year. He would like to see the new council capitalize on the “momentum” generated from the previous one. “It’s important for us to continue to do the things we need to do in order for the community to remain sustainable in the long-run.” To achieve this, McCormick suggests the city needs to “keep tax increases to no more than the rate of inflation (two per cent).”
Sourcing new funds for infrastructure renewal is part of maintaining a vibrant community along with “creating an environment where businesses can thrive and people want to live.” City council plays an important role in making that happen.
McCormick points to a strong working relationship with Cranbrook’s Mayor Lee Pratt that includes a “regional approach to opportunities.” As a vehicle for promoting the local region as a place to live, invest and start a business, the KCDI (Kimberley Cranbrook Development Initiative) is “starting to pay dividends.” The current online marketing campaign is working well and generating investment leads.
He added there is “more money available for regional initiatives” compared to a municipality going on its own. The KCDI has been “critical” in dealing with BC Jobs Ministry, the Major Investment Office and other government agencies. He hopes the KCDI will undertake a “major campaign in 2019.”
It will target the Lower Mainland, Calgary, Edmonton and the US Pacific Northwest to “generate leads from startups and other businesses looking to combine a lower cost of doing business with our incredible lifestyle.”
People are excited to be in Kimberley, to be moving here. The energy from the retail, hospitality and accommodation sectors stimulated by arts, culture and outdoor pursuits creates a “vibe”, a positive feeling about being part of a community that supports one another be it people, businesses, community groups, health agencies, schools, sports groups of all kinds and canine friends. Success breeds more of the same. Along with that comes increasing social and economic challenges, he said.
While new families and businesses moving here are important for McCormick’s long-term vision, they create “issues of opportunity” that include the increasing “strain” on schools, childcare, affordable housing and other social aspects of the community.
“With that demand [to live in Kimberley] comes some pretty serious challenges, affordable housing, the schools are full and serious issues with childcare,” he said.
These issues fall within provincial jurisdiction. However, McCormick hopes council will establish policies and bylaws that help “create an environment where developers and builders will come in and fix those problems [affordable housing, rental and purchase].”
Affordable rental housing, schools and childcare require cooperation and attention from the provincial government. McCormick and city council maintain “good” relationships with all ministries that affect the municipality. They continually work with government to keep the city’s priorities and issues front and centre.
For the next year and several after, the Mayor is “looking forward to continuing to methodically move things forward to the point were Kimberley is an affordable sustainable community.”
In order to achieve that, council will need to deal with the infrastructure deficit. “While we’re making good progress on that, we still have a very, very long way to go.” Building and maintaining infrastructure requires successive councils to continue the renewal program over many years.
McCormick believes “2019 will be another year of incremental progress and hopefully a very positive year for the community.”