A great turnout of over 60 engaged citizens of Rossland came out to the Miners’ Hall on Sunday to take part in another Thoughtexchange exercise to help steer council in the right direction. To everyone’s delight, every councillor was also present to hear the people’s voices.
Although the results were good and the input was great, according to Mayor Kathy Moore, she and council would have invited more criticism.
“We’re a new council and we came in with a strong mandate from the public. The honeymoon is still going on. It’s too bad more of the negative crowd are not here,” she said.
The evening opened with a fantastic ice breaker exercise that had attendees write down their thoughts and concerns then discuss them with any one person in the room. Partners were switched a few times until the organizer, Dave MacLeod asked those in the crowd to voice their opinions.
Vocal members spoke up on issues concerning taxes being high enough, the hope that council take a good look into the future, not just the now, and that unique community outlets still receive attention. Things such as arts projects, recreation and “things that just make Rossland, Rossland.”
Once the first round of public interaction was completed, Mayor Kathy Moore took to the stage to give a presentation on the decisions made after the last public engagement period.
The last Thoughtexchange found that the public had a tolerance for a 10 per cent tax increase at most. A main concern among the group was that too much of a tax increase would make Rossland unaffordable.
The city decided to increase taxes by two per cent this year and is aware that water and sewer rates will need to rise in the coming years.
“It’s really important to this council that before we go off and increase taxes we really make sure we’ve done everything we can to ensure government is efficient and cost-effective,” Moore said. “Before we put out a big tax increase, we wanted to make sure we made some savings on our level. Make our house tidy first.”
Right now, not too much money is being poured into projects as the city is attempting to save some funds for projects next year, including the Washington St. project.
This project is nearly identical to the work down on Columbia Ave., just on Washington.
“This year is more of a building up and preparation year,” Moore said.
The city also made the decision to cut overall community funding by six per cent and made several detailed changes with certain groups.
Next up in the mayor’s presentation was an addressal of the infrastructure deficit.
“This is a big thing for us,” explained Moore, “like any municipality in North America, we all have an infrastructure deficit; we’ve not kept up with keeping the infrastructure running and operating as well as it should.”
She said part of this is because it’s near impossible for a small town like Rossland to put in as much money as you need to keep up.
“In a city as old as ours it’s easy to find things to throw money at. It’s just a matter of prioritizing these projects.”
Mayor Moore mentioned in her presentation that senior staff positions are in dire need of being filled and the city is dedicated to doing so as quickly as possible. They are in the process of looking over salaries and contracts.
In conclusion, Moore said, “ We got here the same way as most Canadian cities — through benign neglect. Infrastructure isn’t the sexy stuff, it’s not fun but it has too be done. Many municipalities have under-invested in their infrastructure and we’re no different.”
Another round of mingling and discussing went on before councillor Andrew Zwicker took over on the mic to deliver another short presentation centered on future plans and asset management.
Zwicker’s presentation came back around to the Washington Street project along with Spokane Street, which will be receiving a similar treatment as well.
The councillor explained that if a rupture were to happen to the pipes under Washington, 80 per cent of Rossland’s water flow would be affected, with Trail and Warfield feeling the blow too. The infrastructure under the pavement is 60 to 100 years old and it’s difficult to get a clear view of what may be going on underground.
Zwicker explained this is where the city’s asset management planning comes in.
City staff has been working on a way to prioritize what gets fixed and when.
“This is what it comes down to,” he said, “asset management 101. We have a lot of things here in the city that are old, ready to fall apart, we need to have a plan in place where we’re strategically prioritizing them and working our way through them in a logical manner.”
Currently, the City of Rossland has a backlog of infrastructure upgrades in need of attention, totaling close to $18 million. With less than $4 million coming in each year off the tax role it is easy to see why this problem can’t be addressed all at once.
In closing, councillor Zwicker said with continued public input and engagement, council believes that resolutions can be found that don’t disservice the taxpayers and residents.