Gladys Atrill

Smithers election: Gladys Atrill

Council incumbent Gladys Atrill’s answers on a wide variety of topics.

I have served four-years on Council and am seeking re-election. I have had the honour of serving as Deputy Mayor, as alternate director to the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako, on the Fall Fair Management Committee, the Transit Committee and as Council liaison to Access Smithers. Smithers is my lifelong home and I have been active in this community as a volunteer since I was a teen. The most rewarding volunteer role was Chair of the Smithers Centennial 2013 Committee. That was two years of meetings, story telling, event planning mayhem and magic with other residents who love this place as much as I do.

Through my work at Tourism Smithers I have the pleasure of marketing this community to potential visitors. That extends to working collaboratively with local businesses and neighbouring communities on joint programs to attract visitors to this region.

My priorities going forward –

The Smithers Public Library/Art Gallery Project. The opportunity to access up to 90% grant funding is before us now with an application deadline in January. The current concept design and business case is a good one for both the building and Peace Park.

Continue to support the work underway on asset management planning – that will ensure town infrastructure is maintained and replaced as needed.

Smithers Regional Airport including completing the current modernization, reducing landing limits and seeking an additional airline.

Support for a vibrant downtown and diverse business sectors.

Promoting accessibility and long-term sustainability.

Being responsible and thoughtful with the town budget.

3) LIBRARY/ART GALLERY

I fully support this project. About 3/12 years Council proposed a Bulkley Valley Arts & Cultural Centre at Central Park. It would include the library, gallery, museum and visitor centre. All of those agencies were involved: Library Board, Gallery Board, Museum Board, Chamber of Commerce Board, as were several other interested organizations. A planning process including public consultation resulted in a building concept with an estimated cost for the building alone at $16 million. There was strong public opposition to that price tag.

Council then moved to scale back the project to the Library and Art Gallery and to locate the building at Peace Park. Since then, there has been a public planning process, including many open houses and meetings. The result is the plan that Council received in September.

Now we have a concept design plus a business case including inflationary costs for construction. All of that adds up to $15.8 million. The building alone is about $9 million if built to passive house standards. We have a chance to apply for up to 90% of the costs of this project – 90%! That funding support from the provincial & federal governments has just not happened before. This is the time to move forward. Lets build this – rather that putting it off, losing that grant opportunity and having nothing. This is a chance to put new life into Peace Park, the Library and Art Gallery. The Library has been on the list since 2009, and had to wait until the second sheet of ice was built. Libraries are also a municipal responsibility in BC so it is something we must deal with.

It has been asked what does it mean to the taxpayer. The debt payment on $1.58 million (10% of the cost) is $115,000 per year or a tax increase of 1.87% in 2021, if we borrow the full amount. By 2023, as current debt is retired that will drop to under $24,000 per year. That can be less if we do some fundraising and fundraising is already underway.

This is an opportunity to be for a project at the best financial terms we are ever likely to see. I fully support moving this project forward. The application deadline for this funding is January. There is no time to delay!

4) DOWNTOWN

Smithers downtown has been the heart of the community for decades. Main Street was revitalized about 40 years ago and it has stood the test of time amazingly well. Business owners have added charm, flavor, pizazz and heart, along with a great variety of high-quality products and services. In my job promoting Smithers to visitors and hosting visitors in Smithers, I hear what a beautiful downtown we have, how pleasantly surprised they are to find the quality of food and shopping we offer, the amazing natural setting we enjoy and what a friendly welcome they receive. This extends well beyond downtown, but the visual expression of downtown is striking.

Moving forward, I support strengthening downtown both as a shopping and dining destination and as a place to live. Creating ways to further encourage residential and commercial development in our downtown core remains a priority. This is something Council should continue to work on in consult with residents, businesses and those in our development sector.

The attention to careful development extends beyond downtown though and includes the Highway 16 corridor and less visible business districts. I look forward to hearing ideas about how to strengthen business opportunity and maintain the diverse texture and personality of our community.

In addition I support the landscape update that is starting on Main Street. After 40 years, some trees and elements need spruce up and that is now underway, honouring the timelessness of the Main Street that is so appreciated.

5) HOUSING

Housing and the shortage of housing is a top-of-mind topic in Smithers and throughout BC. We have a unique opportunity now to work with the provincial government, local not-for-profit housing societies, our local builders and developers to be creative and determined.

Underway is the supportive housing project at the corner of Railway and Queen with BC Housing, Smithers Community Services and land from the Town of Smithers. A recently created revitalization tax exemption in Smithers provides financial incentive to developers who choose to add residential housing to commercial development in the downtown core. A group of citizens is pursuing a co-housing development for the near future.

Ideas and challenges recently placed before Council to consider: do we want houses developed on the so-called ‘skinny lots’, meaning lots of 33’ or 25’ widths? How should the town support our restaurateurs and hoteliers who are finding it difficult to attract and retain staff when there is little available housing? Should the town contribute land for employee housing? These questions will need citizen input. I support creation of a task force or committee to help gather that input, and provide advice to council on the housing issue.

6) CANNABIS LEGALIZATION

Recreational cannabis is legal in Canada as of October 17. There are just a few areas where local government can create regulation including zoning, business licensing and restricting where people may smoke cannabis.

I support the recommendations in a study prepared for the Town of Smithers. That includes permitting cannabis retail sales in the downtown commercial zones with a minimum 150-metre buffer from schools.

Provincial regulations require all business applications to go first to the province and if approved there, then the business may then apply to the municipality for a local business license. This will provide a time line cushion to the Town of Smithers to prepare its bylaws, since the application process with the province will also take some time. I support preparing our bylaws in as timely a manner as possible.

The issue of where people will be allowed to publicly smoke cannabis is going to receive further public consultation in Smithers. Until the Town enacts its own restrictions, the Provincial restrictions apply. That means one cannot smoke cannabis within 6 metres of doorways and windows of any public building or work place. No smoking in restaurants & patios, school grounds, parks & beaches, common areas of apartment & condo buildings, college dorms, inside vehicles, busses, taxis, trains, ferries, and health facilities. I am concerned further restrictions will make a legal product defacto illegal, since an individual who doesn’t own their own home may find it difficult to use the product anywhere. I look forward to hearing public input on this.

7) TAXES AND SPENDING

I believe in being responsible with public funds and I believe in being responsible with maintaining and developing the public infrastructure. There is no easy equation through this. In the past four years every member of council has worked diligently through the budget process, with the utmost respect for the taxpayer.

Even a small town like Smithers has a lot of infrastructure – recently we received the estimated cost of just our buildings at more than $50 million. As we move through more asset management planning – and that really means finding out what you have, what its current condition is, how long it will last and what the replacement cost is – we will need to increase our reserves. Overall the Town of Smithers has been well managed for a long time with better reserves than many other communities, but we are going to need more money in the bank to replace infrastructure over time. So while I would love to say taxes won’t go up, I don’t believe that and I don’t support cutting taxes at the risk of not having the funds to do the work that needs doing or ensuring we have the staff we need to do the work.

8) CRIME AND SAFETY

Overall Smithers is a safe community. For the last four years, RCMP statistics have for most part shown criminal activity to be stable or trending downward. There have been occasional spikes where a prolific offender was active in our community.

The RCMP have been responsive to the concerns of the town and increased foot and bicycle patrols downtown and have had members present at public events.

An ongoing concern has been that of illegal and/or inappropriate behaviour downtown and at Bovill Square. This is a difficult issue that most towns struggle with. Increased housing capacity through the supportive housing development now being constructed at Railway and Queen I believe will help. Calling the RCMP when necessary, and social service supports are really the only tools we have. I am aware that some citizens have suffered terrible encounters downtown and I am sorry for that. This is a difficult issue for any community to work through, without easy answers. If there were easy answers, they would have been applied.

As in many areas of public interest, I look forward to citizen ideas on how we can improve this for all.

9) INFRASTRUCTURE

Infrastructure: our buildings, water and sewer lines, roads and sidewalks, parks, airport, and more. This is often called our core business. Make sure the water comes out the tap, there aren’t too many potholes and sewer plant is working.

This is where one hears so much about asset management planning. I referenced this under taxes and spending too. Smithers has reserves, including for replacing equipment, airport reserves and a general reserve – the main savings account. Overall the town is in good shape. Previous Councils established reserves and used them when they needed too. That said, like most communities in Canada our pipes and roads are getting old. There is less money generally than there used to be from other levels of government for core infrastructure. It is required that local governments have asset management plans if they want to apply for grants. The Town of Smithers is doing that work and there is more to do.

One area where Council has been increasing spending is on roads and sidewalks. With the recently received Paved Road Evaluation Report the next Town budget process has new and good information with which to decide how much to spend on roads and where the priorities are. That study recommends spending roughly $425,000 per year for five years, then a jump to more than $800,000 in the 6th year. I suggest during the coming budget we create a multi-year plan that will prevent that kind of a jump in one year.

10) LNG

With the recent decision to build the LNG-Canada project in Kitimat and the associated Pacific Trail Pipeline there is a lot of excitement in Northern BC. There is anticipation of great economic growth and an upsurge in employment opportunity. The decision has provided strength to Northwest Communities, including Smithers – in the Resource Benefits Alliance – in pursuing a revenue sharing agreement with the Province, in order to get some tax revenue returned to the north, to help with the impacts of development and growth.

The value of real estate in Kitimat is careening upward. That there will be a lot of money moving around I have no doubt, and that some of it will be captured by regional and local businesses, I have no doubt of that either.

There are however, some areas of concern and uncertainty. What is the impact of the increased gas extraction in NE BC? I listened this past week to an Indigenous representative from the Doig First Nation speak with trepidation about what is about to happen on his Nations Territory. The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us we need to take action faster than previously thought if we hope to avoid catastrophic climate change. I look to our provincial and national leaders to take bold steps that will assist us all in avoiding the worst of what is predicted with climate change.

I have heard the argument that this LNG project will help reduce global carbon output, by transitioning other parts of the world from coal to cleaner LNG, while at the same time allowing us to benefit from the wealth of resources we have here. While I have heard that, only time will tell that prediction becomes reality.

One last area of concern relates to labour. Many of our businesses can’t find the employees they need. That’s the labour shortage now. With the number of workers needed for the Kitimat LNG project estimated at between 7,500 – 10,000 people, that labour shortage will go from urgent to extreme.

11) BUSINESS / WORKER SHORTAGE

The topic of labour shortage is referenced under a couple of other topics as well. On the local front there is a Labour Market Network that meets regularly at the Work BC Office in Smithers. It has conducted Business Walks to determine what issues are faced by business and to help guide the direction of the Network. The labour shortage faced now is likely to deepen as the Kitimat LNG Canada project gets going. Council may have a role in the area of housing as it relates to staff or worker housing, which may provide businesses a leg up in attracting workers from elsewhere.

12) ENVIRONMENT

There is much that could be discussed on this topic but I will limit to a couple of issues I think we can address in town.

1) Smithers has ample clean drinking water, yet I am championing water conservation in our community. There is no reason to squander something so valuable as clean water. We have a very basic bylaw that directs resident to restrict water with sprinklers to every second day from spring through fall. With the new drought conditions that we – along with all of Northern BC –have experienced this year, I support reviewing the by-law to ensure we do all we can to protect the quality and quantity of the clean drinking water we have.

2) Doing our part to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by building and retrofitting in a smart way. Ensuring new buildings will use less energy in the future is a wise investment. Improvements in building design, use of solar energy or other alternate energy sources, where they make sense will cost the taxpayer less in the long run as traditional energy sources for heating cost more. At the same time we will be reducing our GHG’s.

13) SPORTS

Smithers has an amazing sport culture – hockey of course, going back decades. Skiing and ski jumping even, going back decades too. More recently mountain biking and cycling have been enjoyed by young and old and more people take up the activity every year. The list of sporting activities is too long so I won’t try to mention them all. The town plays a large roll in providing some of the infrastructure particularly the arena’s playing fields, and some trails. The challenge then is in maintaining the buildings that we own now and recognizing the value of newer sports. Should the town (taxpayer) be taking up more responsibility for recreation trails? Trails cost a lot less per user than large amenities like arenas. Do we consider trails like mountain bike trails (even those outside our boundaries) as part of what drives the economy? Food for thought.

14) TOURISM

Tourism is a key sector in Smithers and the Bulkley Valley valued at approximately $29 million in 2015. Key attractions include the stalwarts: fishing for steelhead and salmon and guided hunting. Ever increasing in value are skiing (alpine, heli-ski, cat-ski, backcountry, and Nordic), snowmobiling, mountain biking and paddlesports. Unique opportunities attract adventure seekers – mountain biking across Cronin Pass in the Babine Mountains, paddling the Babine River, or motorcycle touring on Route 16 and of course people are starting to follow the newest trail in Northern BC with 2 stops in Smithers: the Northern BC Ale Trail!

Challenges include transportation: flight frequencies and cost; access to BC Ferries for companies booking international visitors. The BC Tourism Industry including northern and Smithers businesses are calling for expanded schedules on BC Ferries. And labour shortages and difficulty in accessing housing for staff are challenges especially for hotels and restaurants.

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