At its April 9 meeting, Smithers Town Council discussed possible uses for the $6.2 million infrastructure grant the town has received from the province.
Discussion on uses for the Northern Capital and Planning Grant, announced on Mar. 27, was set off after receipt of a letter from a resident requesting that council use some of the money to complete the infamous sidewalk to nowhere on Frontage Road.
“In the February 20, 2019 edition of the lnterior News, an announcement was made that northern communities would soon be receiving a rather large sum of cash under the banner of ‘Northern Capital and Planning Grant’, with the stated purpose of helping address long standing infrastructure needs,” Hermina Vanderkwaak wrote in the letter to council.
“Will you please use whatever money is necessary to complete the unconstructed portions of sidewalk on both sides of the ‘sidewalk to nowhere’ so that it is one continuous sidewalk from King Street through to 16th Ave.?”
“I actually would not be opposed to doing that sidewalk,” said Coun. Gladys Atrill, adding that completing the sidewalk and restoring landscaping along Main Street would both be relatively small expenses.
“It’s a source of pride for community … and it’s not going to take a big bite out of that money.”
Atrill and Coun. Lorne Benson also noted the LB Warner site as a possible place to invest.
Coun. Greg Brown said he sees the sidewalk being taken care of by the gas tax, rather, and associates the LB Warner site with Brownfield development funding.
One idea, Brown said, is to invest the grant and let future councils use the interest.
Councillors Benson, Casda Thomas, John Buikema and Frank Wray, and Mayor Taylor Bachrach all voiced support for setting aside at least some of the grant.
Buikema said he would like to see at least $5 million set aside as “a rainy day fund” and Bachrach said “we should take the bulk of the funds and put them in a statutory reserve.”
However, Wray worried that if they don’t use some of the grant, they’ll lose out on future grant opportunities.
Council agreed to engage in a more fulsome discussion on uses for the grant at a future committee of the whole meeting, in the next six weeks or so “out of tax season.”
“I think there’s a general consensus around the council table that we should take the bulk of that money and put it into our reserves, to replenish our reserves,” Bachrach told Interior News after the meeting.
“Then there’s a discussion about whether a portion of it can be used to tackle some of the infrastructure priorities that we’ve been talking about around the table, so we’re going to have that conversation at a future committee of the whole meeting.”