A focus on economic growth, fiscal responsibility and innovation were the themes of the City of Port Alberni’s public budget meeting on Feb. 10.
Residents were invited to come tell city council what they liked and didn’t like about proposals like decreased bus service, kitchen and yard waste collection and more.
“As a community, we can’t take on more than we can afford,” Mayor Mike Ruttan told a gathering of 20 residents at Echo Centre. Currently, the city is sitting at a proposed residential tax increase of 1.8 per cent for 2016.
“But unless we pay attention to the livability aspect, those things that make it important to live here, not only are we not going to be able to grow, we’re not going to have a reason for people to come and stay and share our lifestyle.”
Using those limited funds to make connections was key, Ruttan said.
“We have to be able to connect as a community. We have a number of initiatives where we pay attention to our capacity to connect, both in terms of electronic connections and in terms of transportation.”
Residents queried mayor and council on a variety of issues.
“I have one concern that I think has been neglected which is Argyle Street going down to Harbour Quay,” a retired realtor asked.
“There are many vacant buildings and I know you can’t do much about that—you don’t own the buildings—but perhaps beautification of trees would maybe hide the buildings. It’s a bad, bad, bad scene.”
Resident Malcolm Menninga brought up waterfront access.
“In terms of visually appealing, non-motorized access recreational waterfront, there’s only one in the city that I’m aware of and that’s Paper Mill Dam. Are there plans to enhance these features?” he asked, noting that he specifically meant oceanfront and not lakes.
Ruttan said that there are plans in the works for a project near Harbour Quay, but that the city wasn’t yet ready to release details.
“Assuming that’s Esso Beach, that area’s not compatible to a non-motorized recreational use. Are there any plans for areas that are more compatible?” Menninga challenged. Esso Beach refers to a small waterfront lot between Harbour Quay and the Harbour Quay Marina.
“There aren’t plans yet but that’s not to say it wouldn’t be important,” Ruttan answered.
The city’s aging infrastructure was another hot topic.
“My concern is infrastructure. The budget has not given it a high priority, it seems we haven’t done that in a number of years,” said resident Neil Anderson.
The possible Rainbow Gardens expansion was also a concern.
“It’s not going to make a big difference because what we need to get people out of the acute care facilities is extended care. It’s the only thing that will do that.”
Anderson added that he didn’t think selling the park was a smart move, money-wise.
“With a lack of funds to put forward to the many issues that we’re talking about tonight…we’re looking at selling [Westporte Park] so that Rainbow Gardens can expand. My concern is that if we sell that property it will not be enough money to do the development that you’re proposing in that area.”
Council will consider the results of the public input session at a public meeting at 2 p.m. on Feb. 17.