The Telkwa Community Hall was packed with voters curious to hear what their three mayoral and five of six councillor candidates had to say at the village’s all-candidates forum last Tuesday night. Most questions were directed at the candidates for mayor, who dominated most of the discussion and debate. The following is what the mayoral candidates had to say:
Repen elicited the most passionate responses from his opponents and members of the audience. Defining himself as a non-politician throughout the evening, Repen said he was the candidate of change. He spoke with pages of spending documents accessed through freedom of information requests in hand of rising property taxes and village staff salaries and benefits, which drew a defensive reaction from staff members in the crowd and current councillors.
A lack of public engagement in decision making was also a cause Repen said he aims to rectify. He said public meetings in the past had been forums for the village to tell the public what it was doing, not to get feedback.
Repen also proposed giving village voters the ability to recall members of council before their four-year term ends. He said as mayor he would only support decisions that had broad support from residents, and added that he would go door to door after being elected to meet people and get their input on what they wanted the village to do. He also said that he would reopen the official community plan because of the lack of effort to get responses from citizens in amending it.
The issue of creating more water capacity in the village came up often, and Repen said more spending needed to be redirected to building that capacity.
“The bridge with council won’t be an issue if council also supports those initiatives if it’s obviously based on community feedback… If council does not respect what people of the town say they want to do, well that’s a tough bridge, because I’m with the people first. I’m with the people who live here and pay taxes, not with council,” said Repen when asked how he would work well with other members of council.
The current councillor and mayoral candidate said he wants to cut taxes, but the current system of including regional district and provincial taxes on the village tax notices sent out to residents is misleading. Zitkauskas said village taxes cost about $6.50 per day. “[It] gets us water, sewer, garbage pickup, road maintenance, fire protection, first responder emergency services, flood protection, playgrounds, outdoor sports facilities, people to do the work of conducting and to administer the daily business of our community,” said Zitkauskas, adding the cost could not be bared by the village alone and it needed other levels of government to chip in.
When asked about tough decisions, Zitkauskas said the tax level was something he supported to put future councils in a better position. He said the water situation was anticipated four years ago and that he intends to pursue the next round of Build Canada funds to have the provincial and federal governments pay for two thirds of a water infrastructure upgrade.
“Keep doing what we’ve been doing,” said Zitkauskas when asked how the village would meet infrastructure growth demands.
Acknowledging a lack of public input at town hall meetings, Zitkauskas said the solution was to meet people on their time rather than council’s time, though he said residents likely did not want to be bothered at the door by a knocking politician looking for input. He suggested members of council meet more people informally, like at a coffee shop.
To save money, Zitkauskas had the big idea of working with neighbouring municipalities to pool their resources and make purchases in bulk when possible.
The least combative mayoral candidate of the night, Rokstad said she was a village administrative assistant who knew how to get things done without a personal agenda. The work she listed as wanting to get done included water pipes, streets, sidewalks, and attracting a health facility to the village. She also agreed taxes were too high, and suggested there were ways to spend more pragmatically.
Rokstad noticed the lack of public engagement at town halls as well. She said she would have an open-door policy and use social media to reach out to the public.
“We are accessible to the public, you just have to pick up the phone,” Rokstad told those gathered.
The mayoral candidate spoke of the need to create growth by upgrading infrastructure and offering commercial investment incentives.
The former village staff worker became defensive when it came to staff contracts.
“A lot of the staff and all the councillors, and contractors are residents also of Telkwa, and they need to be represented as well… We have a wonderful staff at the Village of Telkwa. They really care about Telkwa; They really care about you, don’t make any mistake about that, and they’re not making a fortune,” said Rokstad.