Almost all the seats in Nechako Valley Secondary School’s small auditorium were filled Wednesday, April 22 for a town hall meeting.
Vanderhoof’s mayor, council and chief administrative officer graced the stage and spoke to the public about various political issues during the public-forum style discussion.
Taxation was high on the radar and many questioned the town’s decision to increase major industrial property tax with 50 per cent of it being used to retain existing jobs.
Vanderhoof chamber of commerce acting president Joe Von Dollen said raising taxes doesn’t seem like a great way to promote growth.
Councillor Brian Frenkel commented that Houston and Quesnel are now facing $500,000 shortfalls [with the closure of their mills] and that if that happened in Vanderhoof an industrial levy would help gradually reduce services instead of them dropping off completely.
“So we’re penalizing on an assumption that L&M and Plateau may leave us,” Von Dollen said.
Mayor Gerry Thiessen reiterated that even with the tax increase Vanderhoof’s rate still remains about half of most others in the district.
“It’s an increase yes but we will still be second lowest in the area and we want to be proactive,” Thiessen said. No other municipal tax will increase other than the industrial property tax from $31.51 per thousand dollars of assessment last year to $41.51 this year.
Policing was also a hot topic for many folk who attended.
Dan Patton, Vanderhoof resident, asked council what happens when someone breaches a bylaw and how are they enforced.
Councillor Ken Young was handed the mic and said the DOV does not have a bylaw officer and some things people would like to see enforced cost a lot of money.
“But things are changing …and we have had the opportunity to nip some things in the bud,” Young said.
One vigilant community member, Andrew Beuzer, asked if the town has fining ability.
Evan Parliament, CAO, said typically there are four stages when prosecuting a bylaw breaker – a verbal warning, written warning, ticket and claims court. However, Vanderhoof has never had a Municipal Ticket Information (MTI) bylaw which would give the municipality authority to issue tickets to violators.
“Without it we go from warning right to small claims court. During the warning stages most good people will cease and desist but when we give them the bylaw and they continue to violate, without the MTI we have to go to court which is extremely expensive to the tax payer,” Parliament said.
When asked why Vanderhoof doesn’t have a MTI, Mayor Thiessen said council simply never went down that road because in the past residents didn’t want it.
“I think you will see council looking at it more seriously now but the hard part is you want to have bylaws that are enforceable and there is a cost. Up until now we’ve been able to stick with what we have and work with our bylaws but as time goes on people are going to want a town with more enforceable bylaws and residents have started to express that desire,” he said, adding the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako just hired a bylaw enforcement officer. “And it’s not cheap.”
Patton also asked about what residents can do when faced with a burglar in light of a recent string of robberies in Vanderhoof and surrounding areas.
Acting commander for Vanderhoof RCMP Justin Thiessen spoke to the detachments low numbers.
“Simply be aware and if you see a suspicious person give us a shout. We need your eyes and ears out there because there’s more of you and less of us,” he said, adding there is no for sure thing but everything helps, such as property surveillance.
The mayor made a point to ask the audience how many people have written a letter to John Rustad about the shortage of police. He asked commander Thiessen how many people he was short that night and he responded two or three.
“Vanderhoof is a sub hub, people involved in crime seem to travel here easily from Prince George stopping here causing trouble. In the last two months we’ve seen a significant amount of break-and-enters … we need people to contact their MLA to make sure there is proper policing in the area,” mayor Thiessen said.
A community forest update was given by councillor Frenkel who said the DOV has been working on getting one for a couple years and although it is close to fruition the council needs the communities help deciding where it will be.
“There will be revenue we can use within the community but first and for most how do we want to manage the forest,” Frenkel said.
Council received a letter April 22 stating the district has 100 days to hold community meetings to get resident input.
“We also have to inform trappers and guides and talk with First Nations,” he said. A date for a meeting has not yet been set.
A short speech on the animal bylaw by councillor Steve Little confirmed the district will be holding a community forum that will focus solely on the Animal Control Bylaw before the bylaw’s third reading. A date has not yet been set.
The DOV’s new recreation building gained some interest as well with a short summary by councillor Young. A meeting April 28 at the DOV will entertain ideas on who and what will occupy the space.
The Aquatic Centre Society and Kwik Save brownfield were also mentioned at the meeting. The Stuart Nechako Regional pool Society has thus far raised $100,000 toward the pool and the DOV continues to look into additional grant funding wherever possible to bring a pool to Vanderhoof. Funds for the brownfield site have already been allocated in the 2015 budget and the DOV continues to look into possible projects that could occupy the prime location.