“There is so much that we have accomplished in the District over the past four years that has improved our community and enhanced its future; but there is still much work to be done, and I am committed to working with our citizens, council and staff to continue to improve the community and to be able to make our town the best place to live in B.C.,” stated District of Barriere incumbent mayoral candidate Mike Fennell last week.
Fennell was elected as the first Mayor for the new municipality four years ago, and says the first year for mayor and council “was a learning year for everyone”. He notes that because the first term also started so late in the year the District had no opportunity to apply for grants and funding that would normally be available to a community for that fiscal year. “That first one year term was an education for us all at municipal hall, but it was time well spent for the future of Barriere.”
Fennell tells how in that first year, his debut as a representative for Barriere at a Thompson Nicola Regional District (TNRD) meeting, “Was an eye opener. Especially when they started talking about solid waste disposal in the communities and how this would cost about $95,000 per year for our municipality,” said Fennell, “I am especially proud of the way that council and staff were able to address this large expense; by introducing our curb side blue bag recycling program. We were the first community outside of Kamloops to do so, and we now recycle more cardboard per capita than anywhere else in the TNRD. This has saved us a considerable amount of money in landfill dumping fees, and the purchase of a new garbage truck for the District has greatly assisted this project as well.”
Fennell says during his four years as mayor he has spent a lot of time dealing with other members of government; both provincial and federal. “You learn the fine art of government negotiation, how to push and when to back off. If you push to hard your community gets nothing, and if you back off too soon your neighbour gets it instead of you.”
Fennell notes that of all the municipal taxes collected in Canada, the provincial and federal levels of government get about 90 per cent, and the remaining 10 per cent goes back to the communities.
He stated that finding funding for municipal projects and improvements is a never ending job, and that attending government conferences such as the annual UBCM, and the FCM (Federation of Canadian Municipalities) provides not only educational opportunities for local government representatives, but other benefits as well. “The FCM conference I attended in Halifax featured workshops, a municipal suppliers trade show of 200 vendors with everything from government information to fire equipment, water systems, etc.,” said Fennell, “It is there that I was able to see first hand and speak with the manufacturers of Green Gym (an outdoor fitness centre) that they are working with us to access a grant for $15,000 so we can purchase the Gym and install it near the tots playground.”
He noted that if the Gym is purchased the Barriere Lions Club have offered to add a gazebo beside the equipment. An additional cost factor of $5,000 for the green Gym installation will be worked into the Districts 2012 budget.
Asked what Fennell had to say about the rise in taxes for Barriere residents since incorporation he stated, “In 2007 our budget right after incorporation was $500,000 and it was the same in 2008. In 2009 and 2010 it was $520,000. In 2011 it increased to $620,000 due to the fact that we had an additional 50 residential dwelling lots added to our tax roll.”
He noted that this increased number of assessments enabled the municipality to lower the mill rate which assisted area taxpayers, although for most, their taxes did increase.
“Barriere is the second lowest municipality in the TNRD for residential taxes,” said the incumbent Mayor, “Logan Lake is the lowest and they receive a substantial tax from Highland Valley Copper. We believe our business taxes are the lowest as well, and we’ve built a good environment for people to move here. “He notes that 85 per cent of taxes collected come from residential, of which 50 per cent are occupied by seniors. “We have to keep the taxes affordable for our seniors,” said Fennell, “If we can encourage industry to come here this will contribute a large percentage to our budget. For instance if we had a $3 million dollar plant her it would contribute about $60,000 to our budget in taxes, which would work out to approximately the same tax as what would come from a total of 110 residences.”
The Star/Journal asked what about the money that has been spent on the Barrierte Southgate Industrial Park, which to date has still not been turned over to the ownership of the municipality?
“The money spent on the Louis Creek site comes from a $330,000 fund that was given to the municipality by the North Thompson Economic Development Society and earmarked specifically for development of the Louis Creek site exclusively,” said Fennell, “It was not part of our tax money and the municipality is still holding the balance of that fund.”
Fennell tells that Interior Health have “strongly suggested” that the sewer system in the older developed areas of Barriere be worked on and upgraded, as all are on septic systems with a life of only 30 years or so. For most systems that term is fast approaching or has already run out. “We’ve already had a number of systems that have failed, and Interior Health predicts at least one third of the remaining will fail over the next five years,” said the incumbent.
While at the UBCM conference this year Fennell notes that Barriere government officials met with grant adjudicators regarding the sewer system from the Barriere Legion and along Barriere Town Road to the Petro Canada Station. “We are hoping to hear within the next couple of months on this 100 per cent grant which pays for the installation of the sewer system and takes it to lot lines,” said Fennell, “Then we will make sure our residents get a fair deal on the cost, which looks like it will be approximately the same as what we pay for water now. I know people don’t want to pay anything, but when you look at the ticking down of these failing systems, and a cost of at least $15,000 to put in a new one, the sewers will be a much more affordable and long term alternative.”
He also noted that the Riverwalk and Glen Tanna subdivisions with their own systems will be maintained by the District, but that those residents are already on “user pay” and the District is preparing to put a policy in place that will protect the municipality and its citizens from facing large expenses that may appear in the future from such systems. “We’re making sure there is a reserve fund in place for future repairs and improvements.”
Asked about the Official Community Plan and the length of time it has taken to complete Fennell replied, “I don’t feel that we have fallen behind on this, Clearwater is only a couple of months ahead of us and they incorporated at the same time. We had some pretty good people sitting on the OCP committee, CAO Colleen Hannigan and Councillor Rhonda Kershaw, did a very good job for us on this and perhaps their thoroughness took us a little longer. But I don’t feel that it has been delayed.”
What does the incumbent mayor see as the most important item to address in 2012 for the town?
“Without a doubt it is economic development. We have been working with all four subdivision developers in the District to assist in marketing their lots throughout B.C. and to Asian buyers as well. We know these developers are hurting a bit and we are working diligently to help market their properties and bring new residents to Barriere. At the same time we are doing this, we are also trying to attract industrial jobs to Barriere and have generated a considerable amount of interest from that in our two industrial parks.”
He notes that a great success for the District has been to employ their own building inspector which they share with the municipality of Sun Peaks. “Our building contractors are ecstatic that they can get three or four building inspections a week now.”
Fennell says he’s comfortable in a suit and tie, or in logging boots and a work vest, “Whatever it takes to represent Barriere to the best of my abilities. I’ve dug ditches by hand for the community, and I’ve lobbied to the highest levels of government to make Barriere a better place to live. I have four years of experience as your Mayor. I believe in the bright future of Barriere, and I ask our citizens to believe in me when they cast their votes on Nov. 19.”