By David F. Rooney
Well over 100 people attended Tuesday’s Town Hall meeting on the City budget — the vast majority of whom were ordinary citizens eager to have their say on issues that concern them.
“We really want to listen to what people have to say,” Mayor David Raven told the standing-room-only crowd at the Seniors’ Centre. “We’re not going to get into a debate.”
And with that people commented on issues ranging from keeping or cutting Social Development Coordinator Jill Zacharias’ position, to snow removal, over taxing the business community, the imposition of Development Cost Charges that some say claim discourage residential building to a lack of transparency. Participants were for the most part concerned but controlled in their comments. A few were obviously irritated but no one was visibly angry or emotional.
This was also the most well-attended Town Hall-style meeting in years. I counted 120 of whom 20 were Councillors or senior City staff plus four firefighters but City Hall’s Dawn Levesque counted 130 participants. A similar meeting held at the Performing Arts Centre in 2012 drew only 44 people, two of whom were children and 11 of whom were Council members or senior City staff. And a 2011 Town Hall meeting generally regarded as “a snoozer” drew 70 people. Those were low points in the town’s long history of public meetings. Ten years ago — even six or seven years ago — meetings attended by 100 or more people were very common. But until recently many people have seem disengaged. Ideally, that is changing.
This meeting was anything but a snoozer.
Nelli Richardson, executive director of the women’s shelter and a long-time former councillor, went to bat for retention of Zacharias’ position noting that the City contributes only $25,000 to it. As social development coordinator Zacharias has in five years raised $325,000 in external funding for social development projects that have made Revelstoke a recognized leader in social planning in BC.
Doug Hamilton and others complained about snow removal in downtown residential areas where, on some streets, snow is routinely piled on sidewalks making it difficult, if not impossible, for elderly citizens to make their way down. Meanwhile, others were irritated by the seemingly perfect plowing job along Victoria Road, Fourth Street and Airport Way to RMR. “Are they contributing to it?” one resident asked.
The state of the Highway Rescue Vehicle (HRV) was cause for concern, too, and many wanted to know what was going to be done about it. Although Mayor raven resisted answering most questions he did provide a quick refresher on this topic. The HRV was not purchased by the City. It was bought by the Highway Rescue Society for about $200,000 which was raised through countless raffles and donations from members of the community. And it was manned by volunteers. He said the province is paying for the leaser the City has acquired until it reaches its fiscal year-end in march. At that point the City will ask for additional help while it decides how best to proceed. There was loud applause when one man suggested the City proceed by buying a new truck chassis and “slap the (original HRV) box on it.”
A lot of people seemed to want simple, no-nonsense solutions to the issues facing the City, but while there may be some straightforward responses to some problems — Peter Humphreys, for one, said “eliminating flower baskets was a goofy idea” when capital spending had to be rationalized — others, such as spending on wages and working conditions may be intractable because those are part of union negotiations, some of which are handled at the provincial level.
All in all it was an interesting meeting but there was one overriding question at the end: Will the City respond to people’s questions?
Asked about that afterwards, Mayor Raven said all of the questions and comments recorded at the meeting will form part of Council’s upcoming deliberations on the budget on January 21 and 28. The answers to some questions may already be available on the City’s website, should people choose to seek them out. And, if the City produces the answers to others they will certainly be published by The Revelstoke Current as part of its ongoing coverage of municipal affairs.
On a final note, I won that $100 bet with Councillor Chris Johnston on the number of people who would turnout for the meeting. He had bet me that 50 people or fewer would attend. I said 100. City Hall’s Dawn Levesque counted 130 people in attendance.