Mayor defends rail purchase

Lake Country residents encouraged to support borrowing of funds to buy rail corridor

With just a few days left before the close of the Canadian National rail corridor alternate approval process I encourage all Lake Country residents to carefully consider the impact of this decision on our community today, and in the future.

Acquisition of the CN rail corridor is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide our community with a real legacy that is much more than a transportation corridor or hiking trail. It’s a public land asset that will benefit our children and their children.

The participation of multiple government partners means that our community will gain land and future infrastructure that we could not achieve on our own.

Borrowing for the corridor acquisition means that current municipal infrastructure plans remain in place with no change or reprioritization of budget allocations for things like water, roadways and pedestrian safety. We build roads and sidewalks every year and those programs are not affected by this borrowing plan. The timing of this opportunity is beyond our control, so we can only control whether we seize it.

Some people may ask if we can afford the cost, but the real question to me is can we afford not to?

Lake Country is one of the fastest growing regions in the area, as are the adjacent communities and we need to plan proactively to manage this growth. With the potential for a return on investment to increase our tax base, enhance existing businesses, encourage the growth of small businesses and increase the livability of Lake Country, this corridor will be a tremendous asset for taxpayers today and for generations to come.

With Lake Country midway between Kelowna and Vernon, it is well-positioned to benefit the most over the long run. The Okanagan is not just one community; one success is a success for all. Our residents benefit from an international airport, large farmers markets and the wine routes. Lake Country needs to give people more reasons to choose to live, do business and visit, and the Okanagan corridor can play a fundamental role in enhancing the local business and lifestyle options.

There is no plan B. If local governments are not successful in purchasing the corridor, it could be sold off in parcels to private interests. This would mean losing control over 16 kilometres of prime, linear real estate in our community. Much of it beautiful waterfront that our residents or visitors cannot access now, and most likely never would if sold privately.

We continue to be confident that senior levels of government will provide financial assistance which will make our dollars go further if we act now. These efforts reduce the demand on taxation and create lasting legacies for communities.

It is unprecedented for the City of Kelowna to offer to pay half of Lake Country’s overall commitment in order to make this as affordable to our citizens as possible. There is no repayment schedule or obligation to purchase back. It is anticipated that through the sale of surplus lands, Lake Country could buy back Kelowna’s interest without any impact on taxation.

Small groups of community advocates have made a huge difference in preserving corridors that are unquestioned assets in the valley today. Numerous recreational paths in Lake Country have been spearheaded by Walk Around Lake Country (WALC) volunteers.

Twenty years is a long time for a taxpayer, but not such a long time for a community. The decision we make on this matter will say a lot about how individuals in Lake Country feel about investing in our community.

I hope residents look forward with optimism for our future and support investment in this unprecedented opportunity.

James Baker, Lake Country mayor

 

Vernon Morning Star

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