Telkwa municipal candidates were asked a gamut of questions from village voters but the one issue that no one could shake was the new municipal office.
Voters called on the councillors to answers questions from the financial prudence of the proposed $1 million loan — which will be the subject of an election day referendum — to the promise for future, more comprehensive community involvement on the issue.
All candidates were on hand for the debate save for Adam Ethier who had job commitments out of town and could not attend. He still provided an introductory remark via a pre-recorded video that was played.
An early question lobbed to Telkwa candidate Brad Layton was what he would do to promote more public engagement in the form of regular town hall meetings and online forums, among other possibilities.
Layton credited the current Village council but suggested more could be done.
“I think the town council has done a great job but not knowing what’s going on I feel that the public has not been embraced enough with what’s going on,” said Layton.
He said he would love to host things like regular town hall meetings when there are issues to discuss — the municipal hall issue being one of them — and also suggested the Telkwa website could have a blog section.
A follow-up also asked if Layton agrees there should be plebiscites on non-essential spending over $10,000. Layton said that he doesn’t know if $10,000 is the right level of spending, but using tools such as the web he thinks council can get a good sense on what the community wants rather than spend money on a vote.
Rimas Zitkauskas used a rebuttal card to reply, noting that the Telkwa web page currently has a sign-up for a newsletter and the Village also has a new Facebook page, an interactive way for residents to be involved.
Referring to spending, he said the Telkwa budget was up for discussion several times before being adopted and he personally welcomes conversations with people on matters pertaining to the budget.
The next question asked Zitkauskas how it is fiscally responsible to place Telkwa into a $1 million loan in unstable economic times.
He replied that while it may not seem like it, getting the loan for the new building is quite fiscally responsible.
“I know a municipal office seems that it doesn’t benefit the community…because it doesn’t seem like we get to use it,” he said. “It says who we are to the community. We’re going to be managing $80 million over the next 30 years….we need to have a professional office to attract professional staff.”
When Rick Fuerst was asked about public consultation, he said that the plans for the building aren’t set in stone and were a setting off point. He said the idea from the start was to have public input over the look of the building and he wishes it could have gotten to that point already.
Candidate John McDivitt was asked why the municipality even needs 4,000 sq. ft. for an office space.
He answered that he doesn’t think the Village actually does need that much. Building on that answer, he also suggested using volunteer labour to help renovate the building.
“Either way, we’re going to have to end up paying for it…why don’t we all grab a shovel and saw and hammer and go donate a little time and fix up what we’ll have to pay for anyway?” he said.
Zitkauskas used another rebuttal card to note that within the 4,000 sq.ft. of the building is the council chambers, 50 years worth of municipal records, and various large machines that the engineering department uses.
The municipal office isn’t the only concern Telkwa residents have. Layton was asked about how he would promote new activities for community youth.
Saying that there isn’t a lot that older kids can do in the community, he said that seeking out things that can be afforded is a priority for him, however he said he had no specific answers
“Being on the outside, I don’t have any answers yet,” he said, but he hopes that were he to be elected he would hear ideas from the community.
All of the candidates were also asked about the one way streets in the area around the post office and why they became one-ways and if they’ll look at changing them back.
McDivitt said he doesn’t know why they went to one-ways, and had heard in the past it was for children’s safety. He hasn’t seen many kids and thinks the one ways should be gone.
Layton said he would look into why it was made that way, and if it wasn’t a safety issue then he’d be open to changing them back.
Fuerst suggested that the one way cuts down on traffic, and he thinks that the safety benefits outweigh the concerns.
Zitkauskas agreed that the roads were being used as a throughfare and speedway for some vehicles. He added that installing pedestrian crossings and taking away the passing lanes on Highway 16 — which is 4th Avenue in Telkwa — will also help contribute to the safety of the community.