Telkwa council has identified its five key priorities for the next four years.
At its regular meeting Aug. 13, council release the Strategic Priority Plan 2019-2022 from in-camera discussions.
The five priorities are water, sewer, bylaws and zoning, housing and dikes.
The development of the plan started with public consultation with 85 residents participating. That process identified economic development as the village’s second highest priority, but that did not make it into the plan.
“When we sat and went through it ourselves—when we did our internal one with staff and council—we had all the public information that had happened,” Mayor Brad Layton explained. “We said, yes, ec-dev is really important for our community to grow and to get away from 93 per cent residential tax base. But, what is holding us back from getting key, important and meaningful economic development?
“Those are those things, water and all that, we need to get that done. We’re doing this as building the base of the pyramid. If we’ve got ec-dev (at the top), what do we need underneath it to support it?”
The water piece is nearing completion with the new water tower on schedule to come on line in the fall, but there are other pieces of the water system that need attention, including connecting dead-end lines for looping and flow.
On sewer, the village is currently seeking grants to upgrade the aging lines. Similarly with dikes, a preliminary report has been received and staff is applying for grants for improving the village’s flood protection.
Layton explained the village’s zoning bylaws also need an overhaul to ensure they are suitable for diversifying housing options and attracting and supporting businesses.
“I honestly believe we’re in a housing crisis,” he said. “I’m feeling the pressure because if the Telkwa Coal project goes ahead, that’s 120 to 160 full-time jobs and even if we fill them with 50 per cent local people that leave other jobs, we have to house 60 to 70 families potentially. Between Houston, Telkwa and Smithers, we don’t have 60 open houses even combined.”
Addressing the housing issue starts with studying the needs, Layton said.
“We need to know what we need to know instead of going on gut feelings that we know we’re short of living space,” he said.
To that end, at the Aug. 13 meeting, council also received confirmation Telkwa had been approved for a $15,000 grant from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
This money will go part of the way to doing a comprehensive assessment of the housing situation, but Layton said council has other funding options—including using part of the $3.59 million Northern Capital and Planning Grant—to make sure it gets done right.
In the meanwhile, Layton said council is not ignoring the public input it received.
“It doesn’t mean we’re not going to do economic development, we are, we’re following leads of potential businesses we may be able to attract and that kind of stuff, but to get those businesses here we have to have the infrastructure,” he said.