Casda Thomas

Smithers election: Casda Thomas

Council candidate Casda Thomas’s answers on a variety of topics.

My husband and I moved here 13 years ago. We were drawn to Smithers by the recreational opportunities, the awesome downtown space and the friendly vibe. We are now raising two daughters here.

I spent 9 years as a Realtor before starting my own real estate appraisal business, which I have operated for the past 4 years.

I believe in encouraging good land use and development in our Town, I believe in fiscal responsibility and I believe in the importance of culture in Smithers.

I have spent my time in Smithers as an active participant in the land use planning of our Town. I have a Diploma in Urban Land Economics and I spent 7 years on the Advisory Planning Commission of the Town.

During this term I would like to see us update our Official Community Plan and zoning bylaw to ensure that our regulations are clear and well understood and that they are in line with our community’s needs and priorities.

I strongly believe in planning and being strategic and I would like to see us engage the community and come up with a plan around housing.

To me, a good Councillor is one who engages with residents and is committed to representing the interests of the community. I am approachable and reasonable. I am committed to doing my homework and being prepared.

I ask you to vote for me on October 20th, and please feel free to contact me if you would like to talk: casdathomas@gmail.com or 250-877-9366.

DEVELOPMENT/ZONING BYLAW

During this term I would like to see us update our Official Community Plan and zoning bylaw to ensure that our regulations are clear and well understood and that they are in line with our community’s needs and priorities.

If we want to encourage good development – residential, commercial, carriage houses, any of it – we need good developers to look at our zoning bylaw and see the path towards their development. And not one that has them applying for a rezoning or going through a lengthy process to deliver a development that we, as a community, have already said fits our long-term vision.

HOUSING

Finding suitable housing can be challenging, whether you’re looking to rent or purchase. This can be hard on residents or people moving to Smithers and also presents a challenge to local businesses who have said that a lack of housing has impeded their ability to recruit or retain staff.

There are several creative ways that we can simplify, remove barriers and potentially make development more affordable. Some of these ideas include smaller lot sizes (skinny homes), increased density in some areas, expanding the boundary where carriage homes are permitted, allowing a suite or carriage house in conjunction with an appropriate home-based business, ‘flex’ space development in the downtown, exploring funding opportunities, etc.

The key is that we need a plan so that we can consider all options and be strategic instead of implementing one-off changes.

DOWNTOWN

We have a special downtown here in Smithers. It’s one of the reasons that my partner and I moved to Smithers and I have heard the same from others as well. We are fortunate to have most things that we need available to us and many businesses that are valuable contributors to our Town.

I believe that we need to keep the aesthetic of our downtown and work to keep it a vibrant and bustling center. I do have some concern about the number of commercial vacancies currently in our downtown and I think we need to keep this in mind when making policy decisions.

I see higher density in and around our downtown as one route towards supporting our local businesses and maintaining a vibrant downtown. More people living, working, dining and going about their business in the downtown would be a good thing. This also plays into the conversation around public safety in the community. More people occupying our public spaces together will play a part in increased safety.

LIBRARY/ART GALLERY

I support Council’s decision to apply for the 90% grant for the library/art gallery project. This level of funding is pretty much unheard of and I would like to see Smithers benefit. With the current plan, the Town would have to borrow $1.58 million. However, fundraising is already underway and the hope is that the borrowing amount would be significantly less. Any borrowing decision would have to be finalized through a referendum, which will allow the community to have the final decision.

I like that two user groups were able to work together and share a space that is smaller than either had imagined for their purposes. I also feel that the bottom end of Main Street is challenged. There are many commercial vacancies as well as a very large piece of vacant land. Increased pedestrian traffic in that part of our downtown would be beneficial to businesses in that area and help to maintain the vibrancy of our downtown and increase public safety for our residents.

On the topic of facilities in general I do feel that decisions like these need to be made carefully. Even after this project, other proposals for facilities will come forward from the community. Every building that we build comes with a capital cost. And it also comes with operating costs that become part of our budget every year going forward. We need to make sure that any buildings we build, as a municipality, are going to meet the diverse needs of our community (and meet them well). I would like to see us, as a community, look to the future in terms of what our needs will be and plan for how we can provide cultural and recreational facilities in the most efficient way possible, so that we have a good user experience and are able to save money.

INFRASTRUCTURE

This has been the most talked about topic at the hundreds of doorsteps I have stood on during this campaign. The Town did receive a report which prioritized roads and discussed costs. I think there is widespread agreement that we need to increase our investment in our infrastructure.

I also think that it’s important that we consider our capacity to maintain our infrastructure when we’re making decisions that will affect us in the future. We do already struggle to maintain our existing roads and sidewalks with the budget that we have. So, we need to acknowledge that we can’t afford to have our only main residential development plan be ‘sprawl’ or subdivision development. Certainly, subdivision development has it’s place, but we also need to find ways to encourage in-fill development and densifying in and around our downtown, so that we are increasing our housing options and our tax base without having to develop and maintain additional infrastructure.

SUPPORTING BUSINESSES

I believe the first step here is to listen and be open to ideas from the business community. A lot of these people have lived and worked in our community for years and are a valuable resource to us. I would like to see a forum with our business community to discuss ideas for economic development.

We need to maintain vibrant commercial areas and enhance them further. Let’s get people living downtown. Let’s encourage growth in our town by 1) sending a clear message to developers about what our community feels is a good development 2) increasing housing options to entice employees and entrepreneurs to come and stay; and 3) supporting and maintaining community assets that make people want to live/stay here.

Tourism is also a key to this conversation. We need to support our tourism industry and we need to continue to find ways to pull people off that highway into our beautiful downtown core.

CANNABIS LEGALIZATION

The federal and provincial governments will have the most control over regulation. There will be a few things that the Town of Smithers will be able to control when it comes to cannabis legalization: retail locations, business licensing and public consumption.

The Town did have outside consultants complete a ‘Cannabis Legalization and Best Practices & Implementation Study’. This included community engagement in Smithers as well as looking at the approaches of other municipalities.

Several recommendations were made including allowing cannabis retail sales in all downtown zones, subject to a minimum buffer of 150m from schools and operating exclusively under the provincial regulations that limit public consumption (not adding any additional public consumption regulations). The provincial regulations for public consumption will be similar to the regulations applied to smoking or vaping tobacco.

At this point I would agree with not implementing any additional regulations around public consumption beyond provincial regulations because we do not have the enforcement resources. If we want to enforce stricter public consumption rules, we will have to hire additional bylaw resources, which would result in a tax increase.

HEALTH AND ACCESSIBILIY

Northern Health manages the hospital and we don’t control decisions when it comes to the administration of health care in our community. But there are things that we can do municipally.

First of all, we need to keep communication channels across government open and continue to foster these relationships so that we have avenues for advocacy.

We can also continue our work on a community which is accessible for all. If our community is easily navigable this also allows our residents to age in place and stay in their homes longer. We can do this by maintaining our infrastructure – sidewalks that are easily walkable and well-connected, ensuring that sidewalks are cleared of snow and sanded – and by encouraging accessibility wherever we can.

We can also play a role in attracting medical doctors to our community.

TAXES AND SPENDING

Over the past 15 years, less and less of the tax burden has been on businesses as more of the burden has shifted to the residential class. The Small Business Task Force did recommend continuing this downward trend. Today, the residential tax class provides slightly more (almost equal to) the business tax class, which wasn’t the case even two years ago.

As we all know, the more we spend, the higher our taxes. We need to be conscious of our spending and have some discussions with our community about priorities. It can be hard to get community engagement in this area, but I believe that our community members should be aware of how different decisions impact their tax bill. I would also like to see us find ways to grow our tax base without similarly increasing expenses. For example: Higher density and in-fill development, which I mentioned above.

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