In the weeks leading up to the Nov. 19 civic election, the Summerland Review is asking questions of the candidates.
Here is this week’s question for the candidates for municipal council:
Over the past several years, Summerland has undertaken some significant infrastructure projects. Which project or projects should be next on the agenda for the community?
Staff and council have identified a number of significant infrastructure projects in joint planning sessions. All projects have been prioritized. Included in this list are most roads in Summerland, more water separation and another roundabout on Victoria South and Prairie Valley. Roundabouts are not only a more efficient way of moving traffic but greatly reduce the number of accidents and the severity of accidents. Unless it is an extremely urgent situation no major infrastructure project will be undertaken until money becomes available. This usually means government grants. A project may not be top priority but could move to the top of the list if a grant is obtained. Staff and council are always in search of grants and additional funding.
Typically, the most expensive in terms of capital and operating costs in municipal budgets, infrastructure projects are fundamental to a functioning and stable community.
There is nothing more important. Money deployed to divide Summerland’s potable water delivery networks to separate high-value treated water from lesser treated agricultural, industrial and irrigation water is of urgent importance.
When such system division is implemented on a phased basis, Summerland will enjoy material cost reductions in all its water systems, enabling thereby other important projects (new recreation facilities, park improvements, roadway modification and urban infrastructure) to proceed.
The industrial areas of Summerland need a plan and vision to improve with the community in a way that makes sense.
Rosedale Avenue simply was never designed to handle the industrial traffic that uses it every day. Safer and more efficient highway access to our industrial areas will help us better utilize the assets they offer, encouraging smart investment and stable job creation.
Revitalizing of our many parks and pathways should also continue. These public places inspire our community towards healthy living and a sense of ownership.
I see many fellow Summerlanders enjoying our parks and paths each day and even late into the night.
We have an enviable list of assets in this regard, and we should continue to develop them and make them more accessible.
Over the long term, there are a number of infrastructure projects that need to be done, but in the short term, we should only be doing what is absolutely necessary without missing out on any grant opportunities that present themselves. Our infrastructure in most cases is aging fast and deteriorating, so you can’t just completely abandon all plans and do nothing. We should continue with water separation projects where they make the most sense to help make our water treatment plant run more efficiently. Many of our roads are in a deplorable state and we should be setting out on a long-term strategy of spending a certain smaller amount of money each year to improve our roads and sidewalks.
Yes, there have been a number of successful projects that the community has experienced over the past three years. There are also a number of other capital projects that are needed in the community. However, as a member of the finance committee I see the importance of fiscal responsibility. With this in mind unless we receive additional funding from other areas such as provincial or federal governments, I see the importance of putting money into capital reserves. Once this fund is at a satisfactory level at that time I would look at additional capital expenditures such as the roundabout on Victoria Road or another phase of water separation, etc.
Our community has made significant investment in new and upgraded infrastructure over the past 15 years. I believe our focus today should be on creating efficiencies within the operation and maintenance of those assets.
Continued separation of domestic and irrigation water distribution would be my highest priority. The cost savings to the water treatment plant by reducing volumes would benefit agricultural, business and residential users.
My second infrastructure priority would be road improvements. Some roads have become unsafe due to potholes, poor drainage and increased traffic. Garnett Valley and sections of Giant’s Head Road require early attention to improve safety. The intersection of Prairie Valley and Victoria Roads needs a new design to handle the heavy traffic.
Our infrastructure has had significant improvements over the past 15 years, with the start of the sewage treatment plant, extensions of the sewer lines, doubling the capacity of Thirsk Dam, adding a much-needed water treatment plant and improvements to Rosedale and Prairie Valley Roads with beautification and the roundabouts. They were needed and have come at a cost to taxpayers, even though much of the cost was in partnership with provincial and federal grants.
During the present economic state of the world, we must remain prudent and fiscally conscious of our spending. Implementing new projects of any magnitude should be curtailed until we have increased our reserves.
It is essential that we continue twinning the water system over time, utilizing funding available through grant applications.
The budget for road improvement is set yearly, but we must priorize which roads to improve.
During tough times we do not need tax increases.
As I am not currently sitting on council it is my belief that the twinning of the water systems, getting the water treatment plant operating at its peak performance level, road improvements such as the possible proposed roundabout for the corner of Prairie Valley and South Victoria Road and some of our other deteriorating roads should be next on the agenda.
Our number one project now is to rebuild our financial reserves. The community has taken on very large and expensive projects over the last six to eight years. The new RCMP station, Thirsk dam, the water treatment facility, Prairie Valley/Rosedale road work and some of the necessary water separation have been completed. Our number two project as we can afford it is to do more water separation. Our at-risk individuals, elderly and tourism make this our next most critical project. We must remember that a one per cent increase in residential taxes only raises $65,000. We must look at areas of savings and grow our tax base before we take on any more large projects. Roads and other water and electrical upgrades must be looked at closely, but our pensioner/residential tax base will not tolerate significant tax increases.
Since I am newer to the community, I am not fully informed on all of the infrastructure projects that the council has taken on. I have observed the continual need to improve the roads throughout our community. I have seen some progress made in this area, but more is needed. I have also noticed that there may be a need to expand our water treatment centre, as it does not seem adequate to accommodate the needs of the whole community (based on all the water advisories I have seen posted). I have also observed that the downtown area could use some sprucing up, and filling the vacant buildings in the downtown corridor would definitely give our town a needed boost. Before prioritizing a list of projects, however, I would take input from residents and want to build a consensus with the other town leaders.
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Here is this week’s question for the candidates for school board:
We are in the midst of a teachers’ dispute at present. If you are elected, what will you do to ensure the needs of students and families are met while this dispute continues?
I trust that both sides in the collective bargaining process will bargain in good faith to come up with a contract. At this time the general public is not privy to the negotiations and I do not have the information to speculate at this time.
It is unfortunate that the board of trustees and teachers have not yet reached a settlement for a new collective agreement. As a trustee, I will be willing to work with both parties to seek a satisfactory settlement. The teachers do not seem to be considering any escalation of their job action, which is causing minimal disruption to students and parents. I have a greater concern that the bargaining agent for the provincial school boards (BCPSEA) has been discussing a lockout situation and the Minister of Education is threatening to legislate a new collective agreement. These steps will not improve relations between teachers and their employer, the trustees of School District 67. Trustees need to ensure that they are engaged in the issues surrounding this round of collective bargaining and to fairly evaluate the positions of both their bargaining agent and the teachers’ and insist that both groups meet and negotiate a fair settlement without interference from government.
I would have the school district continue to lobby the provincial government for a fair settlement to the teachers dispute. We also have to work with the teachers and the provincial government to try to make it a positive outcome for both so the youth in the school system are taken care of. We must respect the teachers and the process so we can move forward in a professional, positive way for the students and families in the school system. Clear communication and professionalism will ensure we maintain the excellent school system that is known in the Okanagan Skaha School District.
I will lobby the government to bring this dispute to a quick end so all parties can hold their head high and continue to deliver a quality education to our children.
Having faced two teacher strikes during my career, I feel we must listen to all sides and not enter directly into the dispute, but help teachers to keep delivering quality education.
We need to be respectful through the process, keeping lines of communication open and focusing on education of students.
At the end of the day, relationships must still be intact. Educating our students is job number one.
At the Parent Advisory Council meeting I attended on Oct. 5, we parents stated how much we appreciate and value our Summerland teachers for all they continue to do for our students during the challenges of a labour dispute.
If elected as a trustee for School District 67, I would work with fellow trustees and education partners to ensure that the best interests of our children are being met.
This includes meeting all safety and supervision needs for our students, encouraging ongoing communication between teachers and parents, ensuring that necessary assessments or evaluations are available for Grade 12 students who are transitioning to university and providing services for our special needs students.
Please visit www.petkau4schools.ca to view my responses to a recent Okanagan Skaha Teacher’s Union questionnaire.
The long-term goal for everyone is an agreement that is fair to teachers and employers and puts the needs of our children first.
We are indeed two months into Stage 1 of a legal strike action by the British Columbia Teachers Federation.
I have talked to parents who do have legitimate concerns over the effect of the withdrawal of certain duties by teachers on their children.
One of these duties is the requirement to provide interim reporting on each child’s progress.
I have been assured and in turn I do assure parents that the teachers in Summerland are more than willing to provide progress reports to parents if they are contacted.
During this action one of my goals is to provide accurate and timely information to parents and to talk about process in terms of expressed fears of an escalation of the job action.
The other goal is to talk about all strike actions coming to an end, one way or another, and we must do all that we can to preserve the relationships that we have with our great teachers, support staff and administrators.