Cranbrook mayor reflects on inaugural year

New mayor, council tackling road infrastructure, economic development and other issues over the last year.

It was a year of firsts for Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt, who—along with a slate of rookie city councillors—have tackled many issues to start his four-year term.

As the year draws to a close, Pratt reflected on the accomplishments that city staff and council have made, while looking ahead to the challenges of 2016.

Noting that he—along with every single councillor who won a seat in the 2014 municipal election—was new to elected, Pratt singled out city staff for their patience in helping him and his colleagues to do their jobs.

“It was a huge learning curve for all of us,” Pratt said. “But we’ve learned a lot in the last year and certainly we had a lot of support from city staff answering our many questions and dealing with our inexperience.”

Immediately after the municipal election, the new mayor and council went into budget talks, where they canceled a $500,000 loan to the Cranbrook and District Arts Council for planned renovations to the old fire hall and slashed a tax increase from a projected 5.77 per cent to only 2.58 per cent without cutting city services.

That budget also included a one per cent dedicated road tax, as the city spent just over $3 million to fix up the road infrastructure and complete a asset report on the road and sewer networks of the city.

“We have an asset management plan, which is an inventory of all our roads and the services below them,” said Pratt. “So now we can prioritize which ones can be resurfaced and which ones require full infrastructure replacement.

Going forward, that will help us decide what roadwork we’re going to do and how much major work needs to be done and how much we can grind up and replace.”

On the topic of road repair, Pratt also noted the city picked up a new piece of equipment dedicated to pothole repair that did a lot of work on Cranbrook streets.

He added that it’s been useful because of the ability to send out one single city worker to fix one single pothole, rather than waiting for a particular stretch of road to get in bad shape, which requires a truck and crew of three workers.

“This way it’s a one-man operation, he can go in there and fix the pothole rather than wait for six or seven of them,” said Pratt.

Another big project that Pratt and council have been working on is an economic development partnership between Cranbrook and Kimberley.

The goal is to attract larger industries to the region, Pratt said.

“We’re targeting getting some industries to move here and we’ve got some good leads,” Pratt said, bringing up the purchase of the old Tembec properties by MGX Minerals. “We’ve already been in discussion with four different companies about locating here and three of them actually have synergies between them, so if we get the first one in, I think the other two will come in quicker.”

On Idlewild Lake, Pratt said the city is waiting on a grant application to get going on the replacement of the dam structure and a subsequent public consultation process.

Moving into 2016, the city is also in early stages of revitalizing the Joseph Creek waterway.

“We’re in the very early stages of rehabilitating Josephs Creek right from the dam down, making it a showcase for the city, which it once was and should be,” Pratt said.

Other housekeeping accomplishments include cleaning up old bylaws that don’t apply anymore and scrapping the two-tier recreation fees for city and out-of-town residents.

In the new year, the city is looking at extending the downtown revitalization tax bylaw to all businesses within Cranbrook, while council and staff are also looking to find ways to maximize the potential of Western Financial Place.

And, of course, infrastructure is always on the mind.

“We’re in budget talks right now, so we’re looking at a few areas where we can do more infrastructure work. It has to be done and we’ve got to get going on that. Of course it’s expensive, but it’s first and foremost on our budget talks,” Pratt said.

Though it’s been a whirlwind year for Pratt and the city council, everyone is rising to the challenge and doing their best to represent the best interests of Cranbrook.

“We’ve got quite a bit on the plate here, but we’ll take it as it comes,” Pratt said. “There’s always something that comes up during the year that we have to deal with. The council that we have now is very progressive-minded and that helps, so we just got to get the message out there to the rest of the world that we’re open for business and come talk to us.”