“Smithers is in very good shape.”
That was Mayor Taylor Bachrach’s primary message at the Smithers District Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon Jan. 24 at Pioneer Activity Centre.
“We have solid infrastructure, we have a vibrant business community and we’re a place where people want to live and, really, those things in many ways set us apart from many other communities,” he said.
The mayor pointed to several major projects as positive accomplishments in 2018.
Among these was major renovations of the airport, which he told gathered business leaders was 90 per cent complete and on track to be finished this year, although he had no solid completion date to offer.
He also reported the new 24-unit supportive housing development on Railway Avenue is now accepting applications.
On the new library and art gallery, Bachrach noted the Town’s $12 million grant application has been finalized and local fundraising efforts have surpassed the halfway mark toward taking advantage of Harvey and Corry Tremblay’s offer to contribute up to $1 million in matching funds.
Bachrach predicted the new facility would not only be a modern and efficient home for the library and gallery, but would support downtown businesses by being a draw to the town’s core.
He expects an answer on the grant from the Province by the fall.
Finally, the mayor said, the Town was able to leverage provincial compensation for area firefighters who helped with wildfire mitigation last year toward replacing a 30-year-old fire engine.
Bachrach acknowledged there are challenges ahead, particularly in complying with the provincially-mandated sustainable asset management regime.
“A lot of our infrastructure was built in the 1960s, 1970s and we’ve never really had a cohesive plan for maintaining it and replacing it over time,” he said. “Unfortunately, every time a new asset management report comes out, it shows that we’re behind and we’ve got to catch up.”
The mayor cited a study indicating the Smithers’ annual budget for paving should be in the $900,000 range, but is currently only $400,000. That will be increased by $60,000 this year and $50,000 per year over the next four years of the Town’s five-year plan.
Bachrach admitted that could mean tax increases.
“The thing about asset management and the infrastructure deficit, is that deficit has to be funded some way and property taxes are one of the only tools that municipalities have at their disposal and have control over to meet those needs,” he said.
Bachrach concluded his remarks by honouring Leslie Ford, the Town’s director of finance, who will be retiring this year after 20 years of service.