The man wearing a brightly coloured safety vest and hard hat, looking up from the bottom of a pit recently dug across Dunn Lake Road to connect a new water line from the District of Barriere main water supply system to the North Thompson Agriplex, is not a construction worker. This is the District of Barriere’s ‘hands on’ Mayor, Mike Fennell.
Since December of 2007, when the District of Barriere was officially incorporated, Fennell has been the man at the helm. Over the past three-and-a-half years Fennell has proven he’s not just a suit and tie kind of guy; but one who doesn’t shy from a ‘hands on’ approach to maintaining the community that he has been entrusted to help make decisions for.
In an interview with this reporter last week Fennell announced that he plans to run for a fourth term in the November 16, 2011, municipal election.
“I’ve already filled out my nomination papers,” said Fennell, “I’m eager to serve another term and finish and carry on a lot of what we have started here to improve the District.”
The Mayor says what interests him most is making Barriere sustainable.
“I want our young people to be able to stay in the area and have the opportunity to have a career here, ply their profession here, or at least get a decent paying job here. I want them to be able to raise their families here,” said Fennell, “This would help keep our schools open and employ more teachers here. We also have the opportunity to start with a clean slate. We are looking at green energy, wind, solar, runoff the river, we are also thinking of starting our own energy co-op and creating a sustainable form of income for the District so that we don’t rely just on taxes to survive. We are also pushing economic development and encouraging industry and business to locate here.”
He says that of course there are challenges, noting that the District feels the Thompson Nicola Regional District’s (TNRD) management of the infrastructure has left a lot to be desired.
“In the last three years we have been lucky enough to get over 1.5 million worth of grants. When you consider that our total tax take from all our taxpayers is just over half a million, and the remainder of our 1.5 million dollar budget is made up from the governments small community grant, we have done very well,” said the Mayor.
“We have a total of seven full time employees. CAO, finance officer, administration assistant, and a clerk, in our offices. Outside we have two water and sewer tech’s, one solid waste tech, and a parks person. Any extra work is contracted out, or we hire day labor.”
Fennell says the District also have contract building inspection and planning, and notes this actually costs less than the TNRD was charging, and provides a more flexible and frequent service.
“The best part is we control our own destiny,” says the Mayor, “We can concentrate on the areas that we want to grow, like our industrial tax base. We have received more money in grants in the last three years than in the last 30 years. We are faster and more responsive to our people, and we have experienced about four per cent per year growth over the last three years. We are creating density and sustainability.”
The Mayor says he is excited about the prospect of the District finally being able to access the industrial park on the old Tolko Mill site that has been recently dubbed Barriere Southgate Industrial Park.
“The site has a sign off from the Ministry of Environment, and we are just a few weeks away from having the industrial park signed over to the District,” said Fennell, “We already have three letters of intent to purchase from companies wanting to locate there.”
He notes that the District’s economic development program has also recently generated two letters of intent to purchase on the Barriere Industrial Park as well; even though this park is privately owned.
Fennell says the District is aggressively concentrating on economic development which will not only create jobs in the area, but will enlarge the District’s tax base.
“All of this is a lot of work and frustration, but I wouldn’t change it one bit,” said Fennell, “It is such an honour to be the first mayor of Barriere, to help build a community from the ground up, and create a place where people really want to live, and play, and work.”