Lake Country looks to continue growth
Lake Country’s longest serving politician says the district has laid significant groundwork over the last year as it looks to continue a path of growth and become an important economic region in the Okanagan Valley.
Lake Country mayor James Baker, 71, says the district is well poised to move forward over the next several years after a time of streamlining within the district’s staffing and infrastructure over the last 12 months.
“We did a systems review of our procedures and did some re-organzing in different departments so we can provide more efficiency within the district,” said Baker, who is in his seventh year as Lake Country mayor and 25th year as a politician in Lake Country. “We’re laying the groundwork to get things moving better. It was a good year and we got lots done.”
Among several initiatives brought forward by the current council was work done to improve transportation and safety for pedestrians as well as the approval of a new water master plan, which will provide infrastructure upgrades and safe and clean drinking water to all residents of Lake Country.
“The Lodge Road upgrade was a major item on the agenda,” said Baker, of the new sidewalks, improved traffic flow and lighting along the Lake Country road. “We still want to be able to get more safe pedestrian areas around our major roads, especially where students are walking.”
Late in 2012, Lake Country council approved a tax increase to bring in a new water master plan which laid out the groundwork for some major improvements to the outdated water system in Lake Country. The water master plan was adopted by council and will eventually see improved water quality as well as a universal metering system so people who use the most water, pay the most.
Baker says the new plan is affordable for tax payers in the district.
“We think it’s a manageable plan,” he said. “Being able to budget it over 20 years we think it’s not a huge hit on people. There are a lot of upgrades that we needed to make and we need to spend the money to do it. “
Also underway in Lake Country is the major highway project that will change the winding Highway 97 along Wood Lake and move it to a major four- lane highway passing in the hills above the lake. Baker says it won’t dramatically change the flow of traffic through Lake Country as the new highway will join with the old road as it enters Winfield.
But he adds the district must decide what it wants to do with the old Highway 97, which council named Pelmewash Parkway near the end of last year.
“It’s certainly going to improve the safety for the public traveling the highway,” said Baker. “There was another accident recently with a vehicle going into the lake. Four lanes over the top will help public safety but it won’t make a big impact on our community. They are still going to come through town. We have to have the amenities to entice those people to stop.”
Since the district of Lake Country incorporated in 1995, the population of the area has doubled from 6,000 residents to 12,000 while tax dollars coming into the district have increased from $20,000 to about $85,000 during that time, according to Baker.
The mayor also says the addition of an economic development manager to the district will mean they can properly market the area to businesses looking to expand in the Okanagan.
Other projects that remain a priority are the revitilization of Main street, which still features a few properties that are for sale, as well as increased transit routes around the district.
Overall Baker says 2012 was a productive year with bigger things to come in the future.
“We are looking forward to accomplishing a lot more and we will continue to try to do the things that make this a good place to live,” he said.