NewsCVRD candidates talk about amalgamation, infrastructure SHARE ON: James Wood, contributor, Tuesday, Oct. 16th, 2018COURTENAY, B.C- We asked every candidate running for municipal office in the Comox Valley Regional District eight questions. While not every candidate has gotten back to us yet, their responses have been included in full in the following article.We did our best to keep the questions short and focused to the most relevant topics we’ve seen come up in the community so far.Edwin Grieve, Area C What is your position on the tax rates within the CVRD’s rural areas? Do you agree with them, or believe they should be lowered?While you should always be open to opportunities to explore efficiencies, most of Area”C’s” taxes have remained relatively flat for the past few years with some areas even experiencing a slight decrease. This in spite of the fact that many property owners have seen up to 20% increases in their assessed values. Unlike the Municipalities the rural areas do not supply many of the more expensive services that are seeing sharp increases due to Provincially mandated permits, licences and regulation. What is your stance on the idea of a third crossing in the Valley? What is your solution for congestion at river crossings? Due to intense lobbying a few years back at a meeting with the Minister of the day by Courtenay Mayor and myself as Chair of the CVRD, we already have a third crossing in way of the new Tsolum River Bridge off Pierce Road. It offers a “back door” to the Hospital, Ferries, Airport plus East Courtenay and Comox. New planned transportation upgrades, like a roundabout on Vanier Drive, could accommodate more truck and commercial traffic, easing the pressures on the southern route by bypassing traffic lights, bridges and the Dyke Road. Signage on Hwy 19 is still lagging behind the times.What steps would you want to take to address the need for affordable housing in the rural areas and the wider Valley? The Regional District has been leading in this issue starting with the non binding referendum held during the last election. The new tax now secures funding support for “The Coalition to End Homelessness.” The CVRD is the conduit by which funds are channeled through from that tax, contributions from developers in the Rural areas,(Kensington Island Properties contributed $250,000) plus the Provincial Government and others to the many charities and nonprofits that work so hard on this issue.The recent establishment of “The Community Health Network” and their hiring of a new coordinator should help establish the social determinants of health and give direction to how best to deliver services.The CVRD supports the whole housing continuum from emergency shelters to Habitat for Humanity and home ownership.What are your thoughts on amalgamation in the Valley/more areas joining the CVRD, such as the Union Bay Improvement District?Amalgamation is like amalgam and dentistry, nobody wants to think about the short term pain to get the long term gain. History shows that, in regions where it occurred, it can take up to 10 years or more to begin to show gains and economic benefit….but is is a discussion that sooner or later needs to be had. What are your thoughts on the CVRD’s infrastructure plans? Are there any projects you agree or disagree with pursuing? OMG. The minute you put a pipe in the ground, you should be putting funds away in reserve to pay for its eventual replacement. Too many politicians of old were more concerned in keeping taxes low (and getting re-elected) that looking ahead to the future. This simply pushed it forward to your children or grandchildren. The day of reckoning is soon upon us. Work needs to begin. It is not discretionary.On my personal side, I have been successful on working with residents of Mt. Washington in coming up with a “Made in Mt. Washington” fire service plan that succeeded in referendum. The other related initiative is the establishment of fire hall service in Merville/Tsolum/Farnham area which will bring much needed fire and first responder services to that area and greatly reduce the amount paid by residents on their home insurance.Do you think the current system of appointed directors to the CVRD from the three municipalities should change? It is up to each municipality how they select their Directors. All you can hope is that they arrive at the “Regional” table with a “Regional” perspective. Do you agree with the current Regional Growth Strategy? Why or why not? The RGS is a living document and should be subject to review when necessary. That being said, I personally firmly believe in the founding principals of “Smart Growth” where most Development is directed to the municipal core where services and transportation infrastructure already exist. This also allows the rural areas to remain rural. Overall, why do you think you should lead this community? Having being born and raised in the Comox Valley, I can attest to the changes that occurred in my lifetime alone. From a community of 17,000 to the present 65,000, we now suffer the growing pains that any community would. It is important to keep from the past the things that truly make the Comox Valley what it is. The natural beauty, the over 55,000 acres of farmland, the recreation opportunities, the ocean, the lakes and the mountains…..they all make up the “working landscape.” But the balance needs to be maintained and there will always be pressures but, in the end, we need to insure our children’s children can work live and play for generations in this wondrous place. I will practice cautionary principals and take care of what we are blessed with. I will put the valley first.Jay Oddleifson, Area C What is your position on the tax rates within the CVRD’s rural areas? Do you agree with them, or believe they should be lowered The CVRD, like all RD’s, is actually quite responsible in terms of how services are funded and financed, line by line, but overall spending is a concern, e.g. the new CVRD office building and the dramatic increase in CVRD staff and resulting payroll. We can do a better job of communicating the consequences of generous government spending. What is your stance on the idea of a third crossing in the Valley? What is your solution for congestion at river crossings? Clearly traffic congestion is a challenge. I’m not convinced that a 3rd crossing is the best solution. I would like to review traffic engineering studies, or if we don’t have them, get them done. An engineering study would better inform, in an objective manner, appropriate suggestions for improvements. As this is an issue affecting all valley residents, this would be another opportunity for all municipalities to be at the same table to discuss viable solutions. What steps would you want to take to address the need for affordable housing in the rural areas and the wider Valley? There are numerous groups that have already given this issue great consideration. It’s important to stay engaged with those groups and not duplicate efforts. Local government should explore all available options to create real economic incentives to attract more investment to develop affordable housing and increase supply, because the demand is there, and the people who need it can’t afford what is currently on the market. We need to make it more attractive and less difficult for developers to service this segment of the market.What are your thoughts on amalgamation in the Valley/more areas joining the CVRD, such as the Union Bay Improvement District? Amalgamation is too contentious to be practical or politically feasible. Shared services and improved cooperation between our 4 local governments is more likely to yield results, and reduce costs. What are your thoughts on the CVRD’s infrastructure plans? Are there any projects you agree or disagree with pursuing? I didn’t agree with the process used to decide to build a new CVRD administration building, and I’m concerned that the Comox Lake water treatment system was too big and over engineered, but on the whole the CVRD does a very good job with infrastructure planning and financing. Compared to municipalities across BC, our spending is better controlled and more accountable. My concerns are more focused on improved transparency, better community engagement, and increased efficiency. This includes better cooperation with our neighbouring RD’s and the provincial government.Do you think the current system of appointed directors to the CVRD from the three municipalities should change? The current system is based on population and that’s hard to argue with successfully. I think the system is only as successful as the individuals who are elected and appointed. We need directors who do their homework, understand the material, but also know how to leverage the abilities of the staff effectively. We also need directors who can disagree constructively, respect public process, and properly represent the majority concerns of their constituents, rather than pushing their personal ambitions. Do you agree with the current Regional Growth Strategy? Why or why not? Yes. The RGS is a great resource and reference for encouraging appropriate development. As a regional district with a relatively small population and a large and diverse land area, and 3 distinct municipalities, it’s amazing that we successfully assembled such a coherent and comprehensive strategy for managing growth and keeping public services efficient. The RGS was crafted over years of study and consultation, contributed to by the Nature Without Borders report, the Sustainability Strategy and many diverse forms of public consultation and feedback. It integrates numerous values and issues for public service planning and monitoring, and it offers a unified framework for bringing the 3 municipalities together cooperatively. It is unrealistic to expect that it will please everyone, and it probably is a good sign that it doesn’t. Like zoning bylaws, it has processes for feedback, reporting and amendments. Most importantly for Area C, the RGS is the most comprehensive framework for protecting and developing our rural values, including social, environmental, agricultural and economic assets, opportunities and concerns. Overall, why do you think you should lead this community? I understand that leadership requires me to set aside my personal opinion, in favour of representing the multiple opinions of the residents of Area C, including the ones I disagree with and who disagree with each other. I respect the processes that help me do that fairly and consistently, and I have the necessary skills and experience to deal with contentious issues and competing values. I respect teamwork, including the importance of active listening and of constructive disagreement. Last but not least, I firmly believe that government should always seek to maximize personal and economic freedom, and to keep as much decision making as possible in the hands of private citizens and property owners. Government intervention should be a last resort and supported by a clear mandate.Daniel Arbour, Area A What is your position on the tax rates within the CVRD’s rural areas? Do you agree with them, or believe they should be lowered?Satisfaction with services provided for taxes paid in rural areas tends to be low. However there is also often some confusion as to who pay for what. In Area A we have a big mix of governance institutions, from the CVRD, to Improvement Districts, to Community Associations, to the Islands Trust. From my involvement I believe we get reasonable value for the services we pay, but that we must remain vigilant for tax increase creep as they are especially felt by poorer and retiree households. As rural area director I think it is important to question any new proposed increases, and to aim for stable and predictable tax loads. Another area I believe is important is to constantly always review how much rural areas are contributing to services that they may not gain much benefit from.What is your stance on the idea of a third crossing in the Valley? What is your solution for congestion at river crossings? There are actually three crossings, but two of them are at capacity and the third is barely utilized. I think the CVRD and Municipalities must work closely with the Ministry of Transportation to look at a few options and scenarios for the long-term. Adding a third crossing may not necessarily help traffic flow at other pinch points, so I think this is a case where having transportation professionals conduct a comprehensive review of our options for the future – including the role of public transportation, is timely and critical.What steps would you want to take to address the need for affordable housing in the rural areas and the wider Valley? In Area A there are a few immediate opportunities for the CVRD to be involved. There are a couple of large developments on the horizon near Union Bay and Royston, and the CVRD has already negotiated affordable housing amenity for one of them. For the Vancouver Island portion of Area A I see value in working with the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness to engage residents and identify priorities. On Denman and Hornby Islands, in 2014 both islands voted massively for an affordable housing tax, but we have not moved on this. There are a couple of projects and groups on the islands that I believe are ready to benefit from more CVRD support.What are your thoughts on amalgamation in the Valley/more areas joining the CVRD, such as the Union Bay Improvement District?In the Valley in general, I do favor a governance review that would look at the pros an cons of the status quo, and of the value of considering bringing municipalities together. At minimum it would clarify areas we need to work on. In terms of Area A, we have two Improvement Districts (Fanny Bay and Union Bay), and the Islands Trust looking after zoning and the OCPs on Hornby and Denman. I think it is important for the CVRD not to try and impose on these governing functions, but to highlight where the CVRD can be of service. The CVRD should help the Improvement Districts and the Islands Trust in the delivery of their mandates, including in helping secure funds or partnership funding where needed. We are a small region and we should all work together to ensure maximum value to residents and ratepayers. What are your thoughts on the CVRD’s infrastructure plans? Are there any projects you agree or disagree with pursuing?Capital expenditures is a huge part of the CVRD budget. Currently the cost of infrastructure and construction has escalated considerably, even in the last year. In this climate a big part of the strategy would be to differentiate what the core needs are versus the “would like to have”. Any infrastructure plan that the CVRD is the sole funder of would also raise questions for me: I am someone who highly values the power of partnership funding, whether it be with community groups, the province, or federal governments. I want to see our tax dollars well leveraged.Do you think the current system of appointed directors to the CVRD from the three municipalities should change?I believe it is up to the municipalities to decide who they have as representatives to the Regional District table.Do you agree with the current Regional Growth Strategy? Why or why not?Yes I agree. The Regional Growth Strategy aims to preserve a balance between urban, rural, industrial, and green areas across the Comox Valley, We are a highly desirable place to live in the world, and the RGS aims to avoid what would otherwise be the most natural scenario – and that is urban sprawl across the entire valley. Many people contributed to the RGS, and it has mechanisms for review and adjustments. As Director, I would also be a huge champion for the Comox Valley Sustainability Strategy, which similarly points at how we could become a truly great region from healthy watersheds to lower carbon footprints.Overall, why do you think you should lead this community?I have spent the last 15 years working at the local, regional, national, and international levels on problems and opportunities that are experienced in the Comox Valley and Area A. I have been on many boards, from small to large organizations, as well as being in paid leadership positions. I am skilled in financial management and oversights and am a huge believer in the importance of the public service. So far in this campaign I have really enjoyed meeting new people in Area A, and would be thrilled and feel ready to represent our communities at the CVRD. Thanks for the questions.Jim Elliot, Area A What is your position on the tax rates within the CVRD’s rural areas? Do you agree with them, or believe they should be lowered?The current rates are necessary to fund the many services offered by the CVRDI do think we need to be very cautious with the growth that is coming. Growth shouldn’t result in increased taxes, to provide more services. Many existing taxpayers are struggling with the current rates and are having to “defer” their taxes just to be able to stay in their homes. Local government needs to do a better job at listening to what the taxpayers want in their neighborhoods and what services are a priority for them. What is your stance on the idea of a third crossing in the Valley? What is your solution for congestion at river crossings? We have all experienced the traffic backlog on the bridges and in town.The City of Courtenay Transportation Master Plan contains some recommendations on this topic as to location etc. A third crossing could have a significant impact on the future plans of Kus-kus-sum (former Fields Sawmill site) and more consultation with the stakeholders is needed. I think it is inevitable that there will need to be a third crossing in the future. What steps would you want to take to address the need for affordable housing in the rural areas and the wider Valley? The need for affordable housing is crucial in some rural areas and the Comox Valley. Hornby and Denman island have initiatives underway to provide some of this housing on the islands. I would seem to make sense in other areas of the valley to have this housing close to services and transit routes. Funding sources need to be explored by partnerships with BC Housing, local government and other not for profit agencies. Affordable housing needs to be a priority by all levels of government.What are your thoughts on amalgamation in the Valley/more areas joining the CVRD, such as the Union Bay Improvement District? I believe another referendum should be held on amalgamation. There is a lot of duplication of services in a relativity small area. I support the CVRD model of Local Service Areas where residents pay only for the cost of services they receive. UBID has passed a motion to compare servicing costs (fire,water and street-lighting) so the residents can make a choice to join or not. What are your thoughts on the CVRD’s infrastructure plans? Are there any projects you agree or disagree with pursuing? Some of these projects such as the Water Filtration Plant has been mandated by VIHA. If the CVRD is to provide infrastructure for growth, then it needs to continue with it’s capital works plan.I’m still undecided on the Agriplex project and need to do more research.Do you think the current system of appointed directors to the CVRD from the three municipalities should change? Not at this time. We are all part of the Comox Valley and the municipalities are an integral part of that. Do you agree with the current Regional Growth Strategy? Why or why not? I agree with the RGS as it provides clear direction on where growth should occur. The next step is to identify how services can be provided without unwarranted tax increases to the existing residents. Overall, why do you think you should lead this community? I have many years of experience in working in local government. With this experience and knowledge, I feel that I have the skills to make good decisions at the political level that will meet the needs of the present and future residents. I have lived in the Comox Valley for 35 years and the Valley is my home. I believe strongly in the democratic process and know how to facilitate change. If elected, I am committed to staying engaged with the residents so their views are known. I believe in promoting the many different aspects such as farming, recreation and the arts that contribute to what make us the Comox Valley and want to see policies made that will retain the unique character of the area.Arzeena Hamir, Area B What is your position on the tax rates within the CVRD’s rural areas? Do you agree with them, or believe they should be lowered?Taxes in the CVRD’s rural areas are in line with the services that we receive. Some residents in Area B do receive City Water and are on the CVRD’s septic system so their taxes will be higher than those of us who are on wells and have our own septic fields I do not feel that our taxes are overly high and have not heard that when I do door knocking. One thing, however, I would like to see is the province increase the level at which land receives “farm status”. We have many folks who are trading animals back and forth and not really investing in agriculture on their properties. Our community loses out when these properties receive the lower tax rate so I am working with the Provincial government to increase the level at which a farm gets this status. What is your stance on the idea of a third crossing in the Valley? What is your solution for congestion at river crossings? We actually have a third crossing already with the new bridge that connects Piercy and the Dove Creek area to the highway. Instead of adding yet another crossing, lets promote the ones that are being underused. I would like to see more infrastructure to make it easier for people not to drive. We need a comprehensive plan that moves people, not just cars. The recent changes to the transit schedule has actually made it more difficult for students at Vanier and North Island College to move around and they are one of the biggest users of transit. How did the planning for this happen? What steps would you want to take to address the need for affordable housing in the rural areas and the wider Valley? We need more available housing in the valley. Period. I would like to see a fast track at the CVRD for building permits for modest size homes such as carriage houses, granny flats and extensions onto existing homes. Residents in Little River and Lazo are already investing in this type of housing and I’d like to see more of it throughout the valley. We also need to educate owners in the ALR about the ability to build suites on the second floor of already-existing barns and agricultural buildings. The ability to build this form of housing seems to be much less known and would be a great way to bring both income to a farm and house more people in rural areas.What are your thoughts on amalgamation in the Valley/more areas joining the CVRD, such as the Union Bay Improvement District? I think we are already sharing services through the CVRD and would like to see more planning done at the CVRD level. Bicycle infrastructure comes to mind as it isn’t well coordinated between communities and makes getting from one part of the valley to the other quite difficult. What are your thoughts on the CVRD’s infrastructure plans? Are there any projects you agree or disagree with pursuing? I would like to see properly costed infrastructure plans that not only include the installation costs but also the on-going maintenance costs so that we aren’t burdening future taxpayers with poorly budgeted projects. I think we have an extremely vibrant community but our population is small so the tax burden for large infrastructure projects such as a multi-million dollar Agriplex or a Waste to Energy Facility do not make sense. I do not want to burden tax payers with those types of projects when there are better ways of meeting the needs in the valley. Smaller ideas with big impact are much more preferred.Do you think the current system of appointed directors to the CVRD from the three municipalities should change? I do find it frustrating that residents in the rural areas only have a limited voice when it comes to governance at the CVRD level. They should also get a vote on who represents them from the different regions. Do you agree with the current Regional Growth Strategy? Why or why not? Yes I do. It was the culmination of thousands of hours of public input at a substantial cost to the community. If the public feels it should be amended, it needs to be done so thoughtfully and not because a specific project requires an amendment. Overall, why do you think you should lead this community? I am passionate about the valley, having chosen to live here six years ago. I bring skills from years of farm management but have also worked on provincial boards where I’ve collaborated with others who have very differing views than my own. I am passionate about the agricultural sector, which has seen little representation at the CVRD level. I am also a consensus builder and love working with community to help bring change from the bottom-up, which makes for a much more transparent, inclusive government.Rod Nichol, running in Area B for re-election, did not respond to the survey.