More than 200 people filed into Prince Charles Theatre on Monday evening to learn more about Creston Town Council election candidates in an event hosted by the Creston Valley Chamber of Commerce.
After two-minute introductions, each of the three candidates for mayor and 11 vying for six council seats got down to the nitty-gritty.
Emcee Brian Lawrence posed the first of a number of previously submitted questions: Do you support the fire hall borrowing referendum?
The mayoral candidates went first. Following is a summary of their comments.
Mary Jayne Blackmore: Yes. The current fire hall does not meet our needs. I am not a fire hall expert, but the Advisory Select Committee did good work in making their recommendations.
Bill Hutchinson: I won’t tell people yay or nay to vote to borrow money. You cannot ignore the public response from the previous referendum.
Ron Toyota: Yes. After the last referendum was defeated we formed the Advisory Select Committee. I am very proud of those people and the work they did in redefining the issues.
Council candidates went next.
Debbie Cherkas: No. I was a project manager during my career with Nortel and this is not a good proposal. The risks have not been identified and pricing needs to be clearly determined before a vote, not after.
Jen Comer: Yes. Two independent studies came to nearly the same conclusions about the space requirements. Costs were estimated based on BC industry standards and the referendum states the upper limit for spending. It includes all costs.
Arnold De Boon: Yes. I urge you vote Yes. The borrowing amount was determined by the committee, but the next Town Council that will be responsible for the construction.
Trish Drinkle: Yes. This community is being torn up because of money. I am confident that a reasonable budget will be created by the new Council.
Jim Elford: Yes. The Advisory Select Committee did a remarkable job over the last year. They are now probably the most knowledgeable people in BC on fire halls.
Karen Goforth. No. We need to know more about the exact price before going ahead, and it should be significantly less. In the end, we may not need to borrow at all.
Jim Karountzos: No. It is too much money, and there are too many bells and whistles.
Dallas Magrum: Yes. I voted No last year, but the Advisory Select Committee did a great job and I like the process they went through. A borrowing referendum has to include the necessary square footage and identify the high end of the costs for the project. This referendum does that.
Ellen Tzakis: No. The cost has not come down from the last referendum. We (Town of Creston) own property on Cedar Street and it is a better location. I want an affordable, positive outcome for everyone.
Karen Unruh: Yes. This is a borrowing referendum only and the Council of the day will make the final decisions. It could well end up under budget. I do like the process in which an appointed design team worked to create the Rec Centre project.
Joanna Wilson: Yes. I attended many of the meetings and saw how dedicated the Advisory Select Committee was. It will be affordable, and if we lose our volunteer on-call firefighters because the referendum fails, costs for fire protection would go up. A fire hall is a huge community resource.
Candidates also had two opportunities during the evening to add further comments or rebuttals.
Tzakis: The cost of the proposed borrowing will be more than $8 million over 30 years.
Elford: The borrowing amount includes all costs, from property purchase to site development through to construction and soft costs.
Toyota: Borrowing for the Town of Creston residents is $2.9 million. On a $250,000 house, the cost per year will be $56.
A related question followed. If voters reject the referendum, what will happen next?
Toyota: A new council is being elected on Saturday and it will have to decide on how to proceed.
Cherkas: We will still get a new fire hall, but we will start back to square one.
Comer: If it doesn’t pass, I probably won’t be re-elected. It’s hard, if not impossible, to get grants without having permission from the community to proceed with the project.
De Boon: I think we will need to get our water tested to see why people are voting No. Seriously, we will have to ask people why they voted No, and start the process again, replaying the past.
Drinkle: Voting No is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. A No vote means more costs. We have to make this happen now.
Elford: We will learn quickly whether our firefighters will stick with us. Our current fire hall is not functional and I don’t know what will happen with a No vote.
Goforth: A new council will have to address the concerns of the taxpayers.
Karountzos: Cook Street is not a good location and we will lose prime commercial property. This project will cost more than this Town Council says.
Magrum: I assume I will not be on Council if there is a No vote. It is not my place to tell people how to vote, but even with a Yes, we are two years away from having a new fire hall already. We need it as soon as possible.
Tzakis: We work with Council as a team. We have done our research and there are more costs than what’s been said.
Unruh: This a borrowing referendum for the maximum cost of building a new fire hall. If you vote No I don’t know what you are voting for.
Wilson: If it fails the new Council will have to come up with a new plan.
Blackmore: With no approval for a project we can’t go out and apply for grants. There would have to be a new plan, but without borrowing approval there can be no grants.
Hutchinson: We go back to square one. I want to know what grants are available first, then go to the public. The next plan will be affordable.
Drinkle: The fire hall will end up costing more. Every single one of wants to save money and get a new fire hall. It can be done with a Yes vote.
Wilson: No grants can be obtained without borrowing approval from the public.
The third question focused on the rate and type of growth that is desirable.
Comer: Increasing densification in town is a focus of the Official Community Plan, and it adds to the tax base.
De Boon: People come here for the scenery and climate, but affordable housing is needed. New construction must be encouraged. We need to welcome new business.
Drinkle: We need more construction and to build on our tourism base. We are really on a good track and need to keep the momentum going.
Elford: I support economic development, but all towns want to attract more business. A hospitality room tax would help promote the Creston Valley to other areas of the country. I support the Community Investment Co-op and I encourage others to, as well.
Goforth: We need to make sure our regulations are inviting to developers.
Karountzos: We need economic development and also to keep taxes down. Need to look at ways to save money.
Magrum: Businesses need to work together. The OCP identifies areas for development, such as agri-business. There is no one-step approach.
Tzakis: Out of town shopping impacts local economy. Need low-income housing and to explore options like carriage house developments, building suites above existing garages. The future of Columbia Brewery is an on-going concern.
Unruh: Encourage full use of existing industrial-zoned land. Our citizens have said they don’t want big box stores. Tourism and value-added forest products are important. I support cluster housing development, and I shop in Creston.
Wilson: The Town of Creston encourages responsible growth in many ways. The arts community is an important asset that attracts new residents and investment.
Blackmore: We are growing, and we need to focus on thoughtful, calculated growth. There is a rental housing crisis that needs to be addressed.
Hutchinson: Attracting large industry won’t happen. It is important to look after the jobs we have and to keep tax and utility rates competitive.
Toyota: In my first term Town Council created a revitalization tax exemption that encouraged the construction of the Ramada Hotel, which will soon be paying its full share of property taxes. Growth is happening and it adds to the tax base.
Comer: Our economic action plan says specific areas should be targeted, including increasing seniors’ care developments.
Hutchinson: We need growth, and development cost charges are too high, according to developers.
Other questions, including the support of creating a Regional Parks and Recreation Commission, and making Creston more walkable and handicap-accessible, got general support, with most agreeing on the importance of keeping costs to taxpayers down.
Voters have their say on Saturday, October 20, and polling stations for the borrowing referendum and all local government positions—Creston Town Council, the Creston South Rural candidates for School Trustee, and RDCK directors for Areas B and C—will be located at the Creston & District Community Complex from 8 am to 8 pm.
Advance polls held on the previous two Wednesdays indicate a high level of voter interest. A total of 481 votes were cast for Creston Town Council positions and the fire hall borrowing referendum. That number is a significant increase from 273 in 2014 and 286 in 2011.