BUDGET 2015: Possible rebranding but no new pool yet

Fire chief keeps his budget increase request to 0.4 per cent while the Chamber says their willing to handle external marketing.

The Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce started off the second day of city budget presentations with their usual request of $84,000 for their contract with the city. The contract includes operating the visitor centre and conducting internal marketing.

According to chamber president Teresa Bird, the visitor centre saw a small increase in visitors in 2014 compared to 2013.

“We’re pretty much back to our pre-recession numbers,” said Bird.

The visitors centre had 25,000 people pass through it last year, Bird said.

The chamber sent representatives to a trade show in Abbotsford in 2014 and gave away a prize package to one of the 650 people who stopped by their booth.

“The couple from Langley came here and reported back how much they loved their experience in the community,” said Bird, adding that the couple enjoyed their time in Port Alberni so much that they stayed for two extra days at cost.

With the success of that trade show, Bird said that the chamber would be interested in pursuing an external marketing contract valued at $30,000 in order to promote Port Alberni at four to six trade shows per year.

The chamber would also like to make improvements to their mobile visitors centre. “It is an older vehicle and so it does need some TLC,” Bird said.

Another chamber wishlist item is a deck outside their building facing Mt. Arrowsmith, possibly in conjunction with a new welcome sign.

According to Bird, that could help alleviate a common problem in Port Alberni, where tourists travelling to Tofino often don’t realize they’ve passed through the city because the only Port Alberni signage along Johnston Road is a Rotary sign.

“Though we love our Valley, it’s not actually marked on a map. Port Alberni is.”

Marketing Port Alberni was also the topic of the city’s economic development manager Pat Deakin’s presentiation.

“Our strengths, weaknesses and challenges as a community are many,” Deakin said, but added that “the opportunities are also many and that we can and will realize our potential.”

Key to developing the city’s potential is attracting Deakin’s target demographics, which include young people and families, retirees and outdoor lifestyle enthusiasts.

Part of Deakin’s efforts to attract more residents is rebranding. He drew on the example of Squamish, which recently rebranded from being the outdoor recreation capital of Canada to “hardwired for adventure.”

Deakin said that rebranding could help the Port Alberni streamline its message to potential new residents.

He intends to apply for Island Coastal Economic Trust grants to match funds already set aside for a possible rebranding.

Current marketing efforts include the Heart of Vancouver Island Facebook page, which Deakin plans to expand to a website.

Sports tourism is also a big draw for visitors to the city, Deakin said, with 65,000 athletes coming to participate at sporting events at the city’s facilities.

“It’s more than just parks and recreation and heritage,” director of parks, recreation and heritage Scott Kenny told council during his departments’.

“Some would say we’re not a core service but I think that everyone who works for the department would disagree with that. We are a core service.”

The department maintains recreational facilities, parks, city hall, Harbour Quay, Clutesi Haven Marina and the exterior of the train station, the latter of which Kenny hopes will be painted in late spring or early summer this year at a cost of $25,000.

Other parks and recreation capital projects include resurfacing Gyro Recreation Park at a cost of $50,000, a user activated control for the Roger Creek waterpark for $10,000, a continuation of the Roger Creek trail project fro $100,000 with possible matching grants and in conjunction with salmon enhancement by West Coast Aquatic.

A fitness circuit is planned for Bob Dailey Stadium at a cost of $75,000.

“The fitness equipment is about to be ordered,” Kennysaid , adding that the Kiwanis Club had expressed an interest in partnering with the city and the AV Track Club was providing $10,000.

Equipment could be added as sponsors for are found.

Replacing the pool in the Echo Aquatic Centre isn’t on the budget till 2019, Kenny said. At an approximate cost of $20 million, it’s a project that would require regional participation and would costs residents $250 per parcel annually.

Hugh Grist of the Industrial Heritage Society told council that McLean Mill would be requesting  $14,000 less from the city this year, down from $239,000 in 2014.

In total, the mill will cut its expenses from $510,000 to $472,500 due to cuts in marketing and mill and site maintenance.

Sales from lumber are expected to fall by $38,000 with fewer orders coming in for 2015 although admission revenues are due to go up to $150,000 from $131,000.

While the fire department could do a better job at community engagement, fire  Chief Tim Pley said, they’ve made the best of their budget by minimizing overtime, utilizing on-duty firefighters for emergency preparedness initiatives and using a small vehicle instead of a ladder truck to respond to medical calls, which make up roughly 50 per cent of calls. Using the smaller truck reduces wear and tear on the approximately $510,000 ladder truck, said Pley.

Cost saving measures allowed Pley to present a 0.4 per cent increase to council even with the inclusion of women’s shower facilities for $40,000 and control room upgrades for $55,000.

Pley told council that while fire protection services aren’t necessarily a draw for new businesses, they protect the ones already in the community.

“The forest industry is a large part of the economy. We have three very large mills inside the city that are very important to our economy and the easiest way for all three of them to fail would be if one would burn down. And when mills burn, they burn completely… and are rarely rebuilt.”

The last two departmental budget presentations will take place at city hall on Thursday, Jan. 19.

Reserve funds including EERF, admin and corporate services will present at 10 a.m. and planning and the SPCA will present at 2 p.m.

Both meetings are open to the public and a question period is provided at the end.

The city will present its proposed 2015 financial plan to the public on Wednesday, Feb. 25 at 6:30 pm. at Echo Centre.

The mayor and the city manager will present the plan to the public prior to residents splitting off into focus groups where they will be able to discuss line items in more detail.

Residents will then get a chance to ask their questions of the mayor, councillors and city department heads.