The status quo has to go — Part 1

Editor’s Note:

Local resident Bob Melnyk is a keen observer of the local political scene and is both a former City employee and a former member of the City’s Financial Focus Group. He always has provocative observations that force you to think about what is happening in our community.

Due to its length — over 2,000 words — this letter is being published in two parts; the first appears today, Tuesday, October 14 and the second part will be published on Wednesday, October 15. I hope you find it as throught-provoking as I did:

 Letter to the Editor:

As this year’s election draws close, I would like to share some observations about our 2008 – 2014 Council.

In the mid 1990s, when it was made necessary to filter our water, a process was created to go forward. There was a call put forward by the City for volunteers to form a multi-faceted committee. It would include City staff, people from the community and a consultant in an advisory/teaching capacity. This process served us well and as a member of this group I can attest that it was both educational and rewarding. Revelstoke built a state-of-the-art water purification plant, under budget and no surprises. To my knowledge, this was the last large project to date that had this outcome.

I jump forward to 2010 when there was much anticipated change in Revy and it was the updating of the Official Community Plan and the start of public participation in the Unified Development Bylaw. There were large turnouts of citizens to observe, question and participate in the issues at hand. From this, there was a spin off. Neighborhood Community Groups were formed representing the various areas of the City. There was excellent participation by the citizens of Revelstoke. These groups were chaired by the City Planner for the most part, and individual volunteer leaders from each group as well.

As a volunteer in the South Revelstoke area, this started an interesting experience. Within a few short months it was becoming evident that there was a never-ending supply of consultants telling us, that most everything in Revelstoke was either outdated, or wrong, and they had the answers to fix our imminent problems so we could accommodate the mass influx of new residents and tourists. (Yes, consultants told us of this mass influx). As this was happening, it was very evident that citizen input was being listened to less and less. The agenda was becoming one set by City Planning / Consultant / Council. As the Neighborhood Groups’ numbers dropped and public meeting attendance became less, I began asking many former members why they no longer attended. The answer was very clear: “What is the point – they (the Council) are going to do what they want anyway.” This was, for the most part, the start of the end of this process. It is impossible to find total costs for this venture but the Unified Development Bylaw was killed quietly in January 2013 and how much of the OCP was sidelined or shelved I do not know. Records show that between 2007 – 2010, $602,564 of federal Gas Tax money was spent on the OCP plus staff time and related expenses. A separate number of $135,000 shows up for the UDB, it claims to be funded mostly by Gas Tax. We sit today with a plan that will fade away on a shelf for it became too complex and unusable for our little City – death by consultant – and this Council did nothing to stop it in its tracks nor take back control from Planning.

How could the Provincial Court House project run so far over-budget?

This Council’s lack of vision, reliance on and excessive use of consultants, as well as not heeding or seemingly wanting citizen input, has carried on. The Provincial Court House fiasco, for example, in which the cost exceeded the budget by +/- $200,000.00 again, no solid number has ever appeared. Because no one from staff, to senior staff, to consultant, to the Council, thought to consider that a 100-year-old building might contain lead? Not excusable! Where were all the documents that surely came with the building when it was purchased from the province? The major upgrade / reno done by the province in the early 1980s would have to have identified hazardous materials present in the court house before that project could have started.

When new senior staff are hired, they come with a skill set that has value to our community. They also come with little or no local knowledge. — a condition that is only attained through time and input from locals of all walks. This Council’s under estimating or not seeing / heeding the value of citizen input, combined with the ever present consultant, led to many poor and costly decisions, made by senior staff.   I use the ‘rats’ maze’ aka arena parking lot, the hammer-head flares on the second revitalization phase (along MacKenzie, 1st and 3rd Street), as a couple of examples. These look harmless at face value, but the significant costs incurred for snow removal by unnecessarily complicating the way it is done never go away. These costs go forward year after year only because local input was not asked for, nor wanted. Yet when senior staff members move away to bigger and better things, we get to stay behind and pay and pay and pay. We need to build and design everything with snow removal in mind. This is something the average Vancouver or other non-snow area consultant has no idea of, after all, it looks good on paper – status quo you know.

The City purchased the court house to retain court services in Revelstoke. A wise move by those involved. We jump forward to the last few years. City Hall has been in some form of renovation for the last number of years, each one becoming more complex and expensive. We have now arrived at talking in excess of a million dollars and this I have no doubt would have proceeded if there were money to be had. This Council would have gone ahead with little or no public participation.

This Council should have had the insight to explore our beautiful court house as the future site of City Hall. This has been brought to their attention for years with little or no response. The City rents out office space in the court house, so they are competing with the commercial taxpayers in town who are paying taxes to help operate the court house. They should be looking at selling City Hall, which would generate in excess of $25,000 in real tax dollars per year. Could open some unique and interesting possibilities to the private sector. Yes it would cost to upgrade the court house, but as it is our show case building, we will forever-and-a day pay to maintain it. It could have housed our Visitor Center – easy drive around access for big RVs – had potential for street type vendors on the grounds during summer and a coup de grace watching a Council meet in the magnificent court room (instead of renting, for years across from the present City Hall). This vision has met with vacant looks to “we couldn’t put that amount of traffic into the neighborhood.” Council put 100s of vehicles twice a day, all winter into Arrow Heights neighborhoods – what’s the difference? Again, a lack of vision.

To be continued…