Smithers town council last night discussed the details of the 2016 budget, the closure of the Ranger Park Preschool Program, and a $2 million loan to complete airport upgrades.
Here are the highlights from the April 12 council meeting. For more about the budget and other items including a new food truck licence, see the April 20 edition of The Interior News.
Unsexy projects focus of budget
Highway 16 transportation and a multimillion-dollar airport upgrade are among the Town of Smithers 2016 budget items, but Mayor Taylor Bachrach said council’s biggest focus was on maintaining existing infrastructure.
The new budget, which will cost Smithers homeowners about $4.97 per day, was unveiled at a public information session at Town Hall last night.
Big capital projects this year include the airport terminal expansion ($6 million), construction of a fire department storage building ($450,000), and accessible washrooms at the fairgrounds ($150,000).
Town council has also put aside $10,000 for its part in a possible transportation link between Burns Lake and Smithers.
But Bachrach said the biggest focus was on unsexy repairs and replacements of existing assets.
“One thing that we are really trying to get a handle on is ensuring that we are investing a sufficient amount of resources in the eventual replacement of our infrastructure and that’s a challenge that pretty much every community across Canada faces,” he said.
Measures include paving and sidewalk upgrades worth more than $588,000, and a new facility replacement tax, which will put $25,000 annually into a reserve for facility repairs and replacements.
“Maintaining and replacing your existing assets is not the sexiest part of the budget, but it’s probably one of the most important,” said Bachrach.
End of the road for Ranger Park
Public consultation and information gathering was not enough to save the Ranger Park Preschool Program, which will close on July 1 despite the determination of some councillors to save it.
At the April 12 council meeting, Smithers town council voted 4-2 to end the program, with Councillors Shelley Browne and Bill Goodacre opposed and Coun. Phil Brienesse absent.
The decision came after almost an hour of discussion, two failed votes and several attempts by Coun. Browne to dissuade councillors from shutting down the program.
Mayor Taylor Bachrach, who voted in favour of closing it, said it was mostly a financial decision.
“I hope residents and the community understand what a difficult decision it was for council and understand that we appreciate what a high quality program the Ranger Park program has been over the years,” said Bachrach.
No referendum on big airport loan
Councillors voted 4-2 against holding a referendum on whether the Town should borrow $2 million for its airport modernization project.
The Town has secured a $4-million grant to renovate the airport by increasing the hold area and building accessible washrooms, among other improvements.
It wants to borrow $2 million, which involves creating a bylaw that sets the parameters of the loan.
To do so, it needs to obtain the approval of its constituents through either a referendum or an “alternate approval process”, or AAP.
The latter gives electors who oppose the project 30 days to respond to the second of two notices advertising the bylaw.
If more than 10 per cent of the electorate responds to voice their opposition, the Town must hold a referendum.
The second is a cheaper and quicker process than the referendum.
Greg Brown and Taylor Bachrach both voted against the AAP.