One Year In: Council looks back in its first year in office
Trent Ernst, Editor
December 2 marked one year into this council’s three-year term, as December 2, 2011 was the night council was sworn in.
It’s been a pretty busy year for council, with a number of major pieces of legislation being passed which will shape the future of Tumbler Ridge.
The Tumbler Ridge News sat down with the members of council to find out how the last year has treated them. What’s been their favourite moments? What have been their least favourite moments? What was the biggest surprise?
For Mayor Wren, there is a laundry list of accomplishments that he is proud to have been a part of. “There’s been lots going on over the year, from all different angles. From a governance perspective having the OCP and Zoning bylaw done, having the works and services bylaw done. Those are big items. From a capital works perspective, having the sliding hill is a big feature, the outdoor rink, the new playground equipment that’s been installed at the Community Centre. A lot of work has been done around the family needs committee. Having the largest residential development in the history of Tumbler Ridge since it was started. That’s between $15 and $20-million development, with more coming. The community forest proceeding finally. That’s one item that’s been on the books since back in the 1990s.”
Wren says one of the best things about this current iteration of council is that it’s results driven, which means that a lot of things are getting done. “Like the crack filling in the downtown. That doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it was long overdue to get those things done.”
Looking to the future, Wren sees even more in store for Tumbler. “There’s going to be a warming building at the sledding hill. There’s going to be a spray park next year. The formation of a sustainability committee is a big thing. The school is working on identifying a junior councilor. We’ve started some work on the feasibility of a ski hill.”
Now, says Wren, is a good time for Tumbler Ridge. “There’s prosperity right now. We’ve been able to attract developers and have them invest in Tumbler Ridge, and there’s lots more to come.
Wren says that he’s also happy to see so much community engagement, and hopes that the open houses continue to draw out people to interact with council and to keep people engaged.
But not everything is all sunshine and roses. “You always want to make things happen quicker, but we have limited staff resources to do everything all at once. We’re taking steps to get more help, though.”
Wren is not 100 percent pleased with all the changes to the zoning bylaw. “there were things in there to attract retail to the downtown core that in the end weren’t supported, but council decided they weren’t going to do that this time. Over the next few years, I want to find ways to bring more retail to Tumbler Ridge. That’s one area…there’s only so much that government can do, but that’s one area that every resident in town hopes would change.”
Wren says with prosperity comes challenges. “If Teck opens, and it looks like it will, there will be several hundred more people coming into the community.” But, he points out, every challenge is an opportunity as well. “With an increased population, that increases likelyhood of retail being successful.”
But there’s still the housing issue, too. “Things always come back to that,” says Wren. “Increased population, increased jobs, we need to have housing for people. We’ve had a lot of good communication with Teck around that, and hopefully, together, we’ll be able to come up with solutions that will be good for everyone.”
Another challenge is the decaying infrastructure. “It’s going to be a major undertaking soon. There’s going to be financial challenges with that, too. And finding tradespeople in to do the work, for the District, for the mines… there’s a shortage of skilled workers.”
With so much happening, there are many opportunities, and not all of them can be capitalized on. “Our potential with recreation is enormous, and I don’t think we’ve ever come close to capturing what value we can with that. Whether it’s river boating or a ski hill, that changes the game for Tumbler Ridge as well. A lot of communities in the Kootenays have morphed from resource communities to recreation communities. A lot of people say it can’t be done here, but there’s a lot of things that Tumbler Ridge has proven the rest of the province wrong on.
“There are a lot of things we can do here. There are a lot of things that can be accomplished when you have a diversity of population. I love it when my kids come home and say they met a kid from Australia, or played with kids from China or South Africa. That’s enormous value that needs to be celebrated more.”
We asked the rest of council what were some of the highlights, low lights and unexpected moments during the first year in office. Here’s what they had to say.
“A highlight for me was finally getting the zoning bylaw and official community plan done. Those are big big things that took a lot longer than they should of.”
“It’s sometimes tough being on the other side of the fence and having to control myself. I enjoyed being in the gallery and hearing what was going on. It’s challenging on this side.”
“Something unexpected was the washroom between here and Dawson. That’s been on the table for so long and then it finally showed up.
But more than that, it was a shock learning how the process works and the restrictions that there are. You know, it really surprises me how much there is to do. It’s not just two meetings a month. I knew how much time I put in as a volunteer, and I knew that I’d need to put in the same amount of time as a councilor, but even so, there’s always more to do.
If there’s one thing I want to accomplish in my time on council it is to make this town sustainable. It might not happen in the next two years, but we need to do it. We need to be able to run this town effectively when the mines bump. As council, you look for the best you can do for the town. That comes from input from the citizens from the businesses. That is put into a pot and stirred up. The more input you have, the more informed the decisions.
“My pet peeve is level of involvement. I’d love to see people more engaged.”
“Council has done a lot of things this year but the best moment was the transition to a municipal board.”
“There’s nothing I can think of that was disappointing this year.One thing about council is you think it is a team, but you’re not. My vote is just one vote, and if something I voted for gets defeated, it’s a council vote and I respect that. I guess if there is one thing it is with all the talk of development, once we made the land available, it didn’t happen to the extent I was expecting. Coal prices slowed things down.”
“I don’t know that there have been a lot of unexpected things. I feel like I’ve come full circle. Having worked at town hall for nine years I had worked with councils before so I had a good idea.
“My goal for the next few years? I want to see more people coming to Tumbler Ridge.”
“My happiest moment was when the sustainability plan was passed. We are now able to start that process in a meaningful way. I think it is absolutely critical to success. It affects the entire community and will guide future councils. They won’t have to go back to square one if the mines go south.
My biggest disappointment is the lack of chamber. To this point, it has been a disappointment. And there seems to be limited interest to resurrect a chamber or other organization. It’s disappointing, because of the lack of collective negotiation, but it is tough to convince people it is a worthwhile organization.”
“Since coming back to council, it’s been pretty much business as usual. I guess the one thing that was most unexpected was the first few months. When you come on board, the first few months is so busy. You’ve got budget. OCP. Land sales issues. You have all these things to do and 20 minutes to look at it.
In the next two years, I want to see the sustainability plan completed and a strike force formed. If we can accomplish that we are really cooking. I’d like to see more community involvement, too. If we can all get on the same wavelength, it would be delightful.”
“The best thing that we’ve done this year is getting through a lot of the hidden things, the backend things out of the way. We’ve streamlined the way that developers can come in and purchase property with relative ease. Tied into that is the work we’ve done getting the crown land back. It’s unexciting but it’s important. It’s something that had to be done. We’ve had developers complaining about it for countless years and countless councils. That has been rectified by this council. We’ve done a lot of work on that. We’ve got that out of the way and made it much more advantageous. With an increased population, we’ll have a more sustainable tax base. Look at the wind mills. There are new people in town working for Capital Power, bolstering the population, and the wind park adds to the tax base, too.
“The time it’s been taking to get Crown Land back has been frustrating. Most of this term has been preoccupied with development, with the mines, with accommodation. We’re still not nearly where we need to be for accommodations, and now we’re into winter, so we’re probably not going to see anything new.”
“The most unexpected thing was Doug resigning. I kind of got caught flat footed with Councilor Beale leaving. In saying that, it’s understandable, and the reasoning is sound, and the town is well-served by having a guy like Doug in that position, but we’re going to miss his voice on council. He was a very passionate advocate for health issues.
“If there’s one thing I want to accomplish over the next couple years is finding a way to solve the transient worker issue. This is something the residents have voiced a lot of concern about, not just because of the atmosphere it creates, but because of the draw it has on health care and other services. It’d be nice to see more people who work at the mines actually live here.
“Seeing the toboggan hill go in has been the best moment so far, because of the number of community members already using it. I keep hearing positive feedback from the kids and parents alike. The outdoors is something I love. There are a lot of great things we can do here, with two small kids.
“There haven’t been any grand disappointments so far for me. We’re still playing catch-up, but I’m not disappointed.”
“The most unexpected thing was realizing how much I didn’t know about the processes and procedures and how things work. I’m still on a strong learning curve. I’ve learned so much my first year.
“Over the next two years I want to build on the recreation available, both inside the Community Centre and without. I’d also like to attract more businesses to downtown.”