Campaign signs line the infamous ‘sidewalk to nowhere’ in Smithers. (Marisca Bakker photo)

Smithers Councillor Candidates on keeping the town moving

Four people running for council discuss infrastructure concerns in the Town of Smithers

Trains, planes and automobiles, it’s what Smithers was built on and it’s something that most of the people running for council hope will keep pushing the town forward into the future.

Ever since the pandemic hit and the Smithers Regional Airport was closed last spring, residents and businesses have felt the hit to the economy. However, now that Air Canada has resumed some service into YYD, the question voters want to know, is how can the Town ensure the airport remains sustainable into the future?

Candidate Randy Bell thinks the airport is worth fighting for.

“I think that we will need to make a pitch to industry that helps drive the usage of the airlines,” he said. “This means we need to entice industry like LNG, oil and gas, and mining to make our airport viable.

“Secondly, if we are serious we may need to give direct incentives to the airlines; just saying that ‘we are a special town because we are Smithers’ is not going to cut it.”

Sam Raven also thinks keeping the airport up and running is important to the Smithers.

“The mayor and council will have to carefully weigh the options and explore what solutions will work best moving forward,” she said.

Colin Bateman, who works in the hospitality industry, said the airport is vital to Smithers’ social and economic growth. He thinks the relationships with current carriers could be improved.

“We should be seeking to meet with Air Canada and CMA and ask them what they feel our town could do to increase flight traffic,” he said. “We need to reach out to our industrial stakeholders to see how our airport can better serve their needs. All this needs to be done while preserving flight service for our community members.”

He added residents should be encouraged to use the local airport whenever possible to keep it viable.

Candidate Mika Meyer worked at the airport when she helped operate the airport cafe and saw very intimately how important the airport was for the local economy and how the airport connected the community to the rest of the country and world, she said.

“For many families that have moved here like myself, the airport allows us to stay connected to our families away. It is also critical that the airport services continue to maintain connectivity to additional health services. I will advocate to continue working with Air Canada to come up with working solutions to continue consistent, dependable operation and with our newly posted Economic Development officer, once-hired, continue to advertise our airport as a place to do business,” she said.

Meyer added it is also important to actively seek other airline companies to encourage them to operate from YYD, creating competition resulting in companies working to be more attractive to the consumer by offering competitive prices and availability of flights.

Meanwhile, other forms of transportation are also top of mind for councillor candidates.

Bateman wants the town to focus on roads and sidewalks.

He wants to ensure roadways and walkways are accessible for all, especially the aging constituents and is important for public safety.

“While many of us assume that these aspects of our town infrastructure are planned for and developed, the reality for many folks is that they have to deal with either an unpaved portion of their street or walk on the road because of an absence of a sidewalk.”

Meyer echoed those concerns.

“For the health and well-being of our community, it is important that our citizens can actively move around our community and feel safe doing so. I would like to action some of the recommendations in the Smithers’ Active Transportation Plan to better support active mobility options in the community.”

While Bell agreed roads and sidewalks are an important infrastructure to focus on, he also said the sewer system needs some attention.

“The failure to make these the priorities by previous leftist council members has now created a bigger problem,” he said. “Furthermore, this idea of a ‘quick fix’ of grant money or charging outrageous one-time building fees to business is not a solution. This in combination with our sewage treatment is one of those long-term infrastructure issues that need to put on the table for planning and discussion. We need to have the taxpayers tell us if they want to be spending $16 million on a library and this needs to be done by referendum right away.”

Raven disagreed with Bell and thinks the new library project should be top of mind when it comes to new infrastructure projects.

“Libraries are truly the heart of the community, it’s really one of the only places where there is no cost to use the services. It is a truly accessible space for every person in the community including children, families and seniors. The library is more than just a place to get a book, it provides much needed programs such as story time, summer reading club, learning how to use technology and so much more.”

However, how to pay for all the infrastructure is also an important question.

Bateman said property taxes have increased dramatically this year.

“For those on a fixed income, increased taxation is a serious issue, and we need to be creative in how we can reduce the burden of escalating tax rates for everyone. I would also like to see the Town of Smithers utilize asset management better. To run a successful organization, effective asset management is a must.”

Bell agreed that taxes have gone up, but blames poor decision-making by previous councils.

“As the Town’s municipal assets continue to age, it becomes increasingly important to go through a formal process determining how a group of assets is to be managed over a period of time,” he said. “We need to know the expected lifecycle of infrastructure to ensure long-term viability that is within the town financing capabilities. The fact that we now have had to increase rates so high so quickly, shows how bad the decision-making has been under the leftist councils over the past decade.”

Meyer added it is important the town knows what assets it has, the age of the assets and the costs to replace assets so budgets can be forecast for their replacement and upgrading.

“Every year, it is important that we fund these improvements and replacements. The town’s recent water and sewer user rates increase by 10 per cent each year in 2020, 2021 and 2022 contributes to this fund and can be used as part of a funding combination with potential federal, provincial grants and long-term borrowing to help us as a community meet the needs of our asset upgrading and replacement,” she said.

Meanwhile, Raven is hoping to have a say in the rates in the future.

“The sewer and water rates were decided in 2019 and locked in until 2022, the current council made the decision they thought was best due to the aging lines and the cost to replace them. I do look forward to being part of the process when the time comes.”

Municipal electionSmithers

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