The mayors of Cranbrook and Kimberley got the chance to update the business community on the state of municipal operations at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in the Key City on Wednesday.
Covering topics such as affordable housing, wildfire interface, taxes and economic development, Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt and Kimberley Mayor Don McCormick provided tidbits on how their cities are faring heading into a new year, while also answering questions submitted from the crowd.
Chris Botterill, past president of the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce, moderated the event.
“I really appreciate being in front of this audience today because it is really the business community that is the heart of making things happen,” said McCormick. “If you have a healthy, vibrant business community, the rest of the community is humming, and if you don’t, it isn’t.”
Both mayors both took turns answering questions, as Mayor Pratt highlighted Cranbrook’s efforts to reduce barriers to business when the new council was sworn in four years ago.
He also touted changes to the city’s tender process that enabled smaller, local businesses to bid on local government contracts.
“If you’re in business in the last five years in Cranbrook, and your business has not improved, you better have a serious look at what you’re doing,” Pratt said, “because every business person I’ve talked to…everybody is much busier than they were four years ago.”
Both Cranbrook and Kimberley are dealing with a housing crisis, both in the form of affordable home ownership and affordable rentals.
They also said that providing financial options for low-income or subsidized housing is the responsibility of the provincial government.
“I think as a city, we have a moral obligation on housing and affordable housing and low-income housing,” Pratt said. “But financially, it’s not up to us to take the resources of our taxpayers and put it towards that housing. Our tax dollars pay for the operations of the city and Lord knows we’re short there all the time, too.”
Pratt said the city has allowed legal secondary suites in some zoned areas and highlighted a few development projects in the works in Cranbrook that include a 57-unit complex, a 34-unit high-end condo and a 24-unit condo complex.
Economic diversification and attracting new businesses and industry was part of a line of questioning about the Cranbrook and Kimberley Development Initiative (CKDI), a non-profit society that aims to facilitate growth, produce jobs and increase the regions population.
Pratt said the city’s purchase of 100 acres of land in the industrial zone formerly owned by Tembec has borne fruit, with two businesses having signed a lease and a third on the way.
“The goal is taxes and jobs,” Pratt said. “We need employment, we need jobs here to keep our kids in town and our tradespeople in town, so that’s the main goal.”
McCormick noted that Kimberley has zoned light-industrial land in the Marysville benchland area, which touched off a passionate community debate about changing the zoning to park space last year.
However, McCormick also said that Kimberley does not have a lot of land designated for light industrial, as over half the land in the Official Community Plan is green space, and a further 17 per cent of the land is contaminated.
Both mayors have said the CKDI has been successful in piquing the interest of prospective businesses and industry leaders, but for movement to happen, the devil continues to be in the details.
“If you’re going out trolling for leads and you want somebody to come in and either relocate or get started up, they have to be able to get in, get in business and get their revenue as fast as they possibly can,” said McCormick. “And if you don’t have land that’s already zoned, already serviced, has all of the prerequisites in place for them to get in and get started, they’re going to go somewhere else.”
McCormick said Kimberley continues to work with proponents on an international school that will be built at the Kimberley Golf Course and backed by a significant amount of Chinese investment. Progress has slowed given the diplomatic row between the two countries over the arrest of a Huawei executive in Vancouver and subsequent retaliatory arrests of Canadians in China.
It’s still in the ‘raising money’ stage, said McCormick, and once a full build-out is realized, there will be a capacity for 450 students; 150 for Chinese students, 150 for international students from Europe and 150 local students enrolled with the Kimberley Academy.
Both mayors also provided updates on tackling issues relating to wildfire interfaces and climate change.
Pratt says the city is working with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development to cut through red tape that would allow the city to log areas for fire mitigation.
“They have to change some of their logging practices to enable us to go in and do the wildfire interface,” Pratt said. “So that’s all we’re asking; we’re not asking for money, we’re just asking for changes to some of their logging practices.”
McCormick said the city has applied for $1.8 million in grant funding from the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) to address the wildfire interface, the most dangerous of which is in the St. Mary Valley, where the Meachen Creek fire burned in the summer. That touched off evacuation orders in the valley itself and put the entire City of Kimberley on alert.
On the topic of climate change, both mayors pointed to energy-saving initiatives, such as retrofitting municipal buildings or replacing streetlights with LED bulbs.
Pratt, a self-professed climate change skeptic, said the city won an award for replacing a pool dehumidification system that produced energy savings of $35,000.
McCormick noted the city’s bylaw department has a new hybrid vehicle and was considering an all-electric vehicle, but wasn’t sure how it would fare as a transportation option in the dead of winter.