As 2016 approaches and budget planning starts, Vanderhoof’s district council and staff came off the stage for in-person feedback from the community.
On Nov. 30 at the Nechako Senior Citizens Friendship Centre, the District of Vanderhoof’s mayor, council, and staff hosted Vanderhoof Vision 2016, a community round table event to discuss issues and projects for the upcoming year.
Inviting the Vanderhoof community to chat and provide feedback at six stations — the 2016 financial plan, community forest, air quality, aquatic centre, community projects, and community recreation events —it’s the district’s first time in conducting community meetings in a round table format, said Mayor Gerry Thiessen.
“It’s the second meeting with a variety of topics…the last one had a theatre format,” Thiessen said. “This allows more interactions with individuals.”
The event is especially timely for the district’s budget drafting process, as the council looks to get input from the community, he added.
“We can really understand the realities — what they see we need to do in the future,” Thiessen said.
At the air quality station, the Vanderhoof mayor heard a concern from residents about the particulate content of the gravel that is laid on the roads by public works crew for winter, he explained.
Some residents also expressed a desire for the community forest to have non-timber asset value, such as providing wood shavings to farmers for cattle bedding, Thiessen added.
Though only 32 residents in total attended the two-hour event, the steady stream of participants provided many ideas and positive feedback, said Tom Clement, the district’s CAO.
“We’re pretty pleased with [the participation],” Clement said. “A lot of things are happening this time of the year.”
One of the ideas to note regards the incoming skatepark, as the district narrowed down its location to two sites, he said.
The district council is mixed about one of the potential sites in Ferland Park, where Concerts and Movies in the Park take place, but a resident suggested using the playground site instead, Clement explained.
“We got to replace the playground equipment anyway,” he said. “We can put the equipment closer to the water park…allowing families to use the park more.”
Clement added, “It’s an idea to go back to council on.”
For Jason Barr, who works with computer technology at the school district, the round table event is a great way for residents to see what the council is working on, he said.
“It’s a friendly way to learn about the projects,” Barr said. “Not needing to sit at a dry council meeting.” He added, “The guys are really working hard.”
Part of Vanderhoof’s Rip’n the North Bike Club, Barr attended the meeting to learn about the incoming aquatic centre and the skatepark, though he learned about other projects as well, he said.
“It’s nice to see community forest, and I didn’t know about the [recreation] centre,” Barr said. “I just hope more people come out and learn about the projects.” He added, “It’s easy to complain if you don’t know the info.”
The District of Vanderhoof’s next community meeting will take place in the spring, when staff would be aiming to finalize the municipality’s 2016 financial plan.
Budgeting for 2015, hot topics
In addition to a round table event for gathering public input, also new to the District of Vanderhoof’s budget planning process this year is its schedule, as the district council aims to finalize costs a month or more earlier than past years, said Joe Ukryn, the district’s Chief Financial Officer.
“It’s normally March or April, but now the preliminary budget would be ready by January or beginning of February,” Ukryn said.
The bylaw for the district to adopt the 2016 Financial Plan by May 15 has not changed, but the new schedule will help with the operations department’s planning process, allowing pricing and requisition to start early, he explained. Costs for projects may become cheaper, as the district secures contractors earlier, he said.
The 2016 general operating expenditures have decreased by 1.4 per cent — $66,088 less than last year’s $4,659,275.
During the district council’s first financial plan meeting occurred on Nov. 16, the hot topics for discussion included the Integris Recreation Centre, Kwik Safe on Highway 16, and the arena’s increased budget.
The latest estimate to transform the former credit union building into a recreation centre rose from its August estimate of $361,000 to $649,813.50.
Now taking into account taxes and architect’s fees, the new amount also includes exterior beautification of the building, carpentry work to make the future YMCA space more childcare-friendly, as well as structural work from the demolition of the first-floor vault, said the contracted architects to the council on Nov. 23.
For the Kwik Safe property, the budget to remove hazardous material is $155,000, and the district council is currently looking for a cheaper alternative. The arena’s new budget has increased by $26,000 to account for training and dues, as well as the wage increase of the facility’s two full-time employees.
Budget discussion will continue at the next council meeting on Dec. 7.