Port Alberni City Council will be holding a final public meeting to dicuss the last pieces of the 2017-2021 financial plan draft on Monday, Mar. 20, and Councillor Sharie Minions would like to see more investment in the community.
“We’re wanting to improve and help the Valley to grow,” she said. “There’s a lot of good in the budget. In general, I think we’re not invested in our community like we need to. If we want to have growth, we need to set that trend.”
Two items on the budget that Minions has been loudly passionate about over the last two public budget meetings has been an events coordinator for the Chamber of Commerce and an additional bylaw enforcement officer for the bylaw enforcement department.
“We should be really proud of the services we have in this community,” she said. “But we need to do more than what we are currently doing.”
She said much of the Johnston Road Charrette discussions focused on street appeal and the first impression that the community is giving.
“It shows that we haven’t made that investment,” Minions said.
City council recently passed a motion to tackle poorly managed properties with an outreach program, but Minions expressed concern that the city does not have the ability to implement this program in its bylaw enforcement department, which currently only consists of one bylaw enforcement officer.
“We need to have the resources available to back them up,” said Minions. “Our current officer is too busy.”
In comparison, the district of Tofino has two full-time as well as two seasonal bylaw enforcement officers.
“That lack of investment shows when you drive through our community,” said Minions.
The events coordinator was brought up during a Mar. 1 special meeting of council, where Minions explained that the concept behind it was somebody to promote events in the community as well as outside the community. The coordinator would also ideally promote local businesses and look at events and opportunities that the community would be well-suited to host.
“We’re very focused on economic development,” said Minions. “I see this as a huge opportunity without having to further overload that department. It’s a way to leverage the chamber and visitors’ centre. I think we could be more successful in doing it that way.”
She gave the example of the Tri-Conic Challenge, which is an event which has been drawing huge community support and promoting Port Alberni in other communities. “If we could draw more events like that, it could be a huge return on investments.”
Minions said she likes the process council has taken this year with regards to the budget, which included a presentation by CAO Tim Pley, followed by round table meetings and a public input session.
“There’s been more engagement, more back and forth,” she said. “I’m way more informed on the budget because of the process we’ve gone through.”
She said she has also seen more public input through social media this year, too. “There’s more social media every year, which is exciting,” she said. “The e-town hall was a good step.”
Although she said there is a natural tendency to criticize, she believes most of the public is supportive of council’s approach to shift the budget to infrastructure renewal starting this year.
City council is looking at the last of its supplemental projects on Monday, with a number of key groups still looking for funding, including the McLean Mill Society.
Minions says the important thing is not to get caught up on an arbitrary number.
“We need to look at what’s best for our community, and not be focused on a number that we set ourselves,” she said. “I would like to stay under three percent [taxation], but I’m not in favour of staying under three percent if we’re going to sacrifice progression of our community.”
She questioned, “What return are we going to get from these investments? Infrastructure is not the whole picture. Protective services and infrastructure do not grow a community.
“People want to invest in the community.”