Vernon council continuing work on core issues
Vernon residents shouldn’t expect any radical departures in policy from their elected leaders in the new year.
Mayor Rob Sawatzky anticipates that 2013 will continue to see council focused on many of the same issues it tackled during its first year in office.
“It’s steady as it goes. The same principles and issues are there,” he said.
Among them is the ongoing core service review.
The goal of the review, which will be completed by April, is to make sure city services delivered are of the highest value, remove lower value services and direct limited resources to the delivery of community-valued programs.
“It will compare other communities and delivery models so we can answer those questions,” said Sawatzky.
While there has been some concern among city hall staff that the review could lead to layoffs or services being cut, Sawatzky won’t speculate.
“I have no preconceived notions. I am a big believer in facts and we will make a decision that works for our community,” he said.
Another key focus for city council will be continuing to improve relationships with adjacent jurisdictions, such as Coldstream and the Regional District of North Okanagan.
“We’re making steps in the right direction,” said Sawatzky.
After years of dispute, common ground has been found on water distribution and operating the fire training centre. There is a memorandum of understanding on the ownership and maintenance of parks and all parties are now looking at restructuring recreation and cultural services.
Sawatzky believes the parks MOU demonstrates the willingness of all partners to work together.
“When people assess the compromises that has consequences for the other issues,” he said of setting a positive tone.
“There is a real effort on the part of everyone to work together for mutual benefit of residents.”
Council will also look at ways to revitalize a struggling economy but Sawatzky admits that is challenging.
“We are restricted in so many ways by provincial legislation, even on giving a preferential tax structure,” he said of possibly stimulating development.
And that isn’t the only problem higher levels of government have created.
“Constant incremental downloading of services has been a modus operandi of senior government and we have been given no other tools to raise revenue (beyond property taxes),” said Sawatzky.
“When you have those limitations and increasing demand, it is tough on your citizens.”
A contentious issue before council this year was the decision to move towards a single command structure for firefighting and not to renew the contract with the Okanagan Landing Volunteer Firefighters Association.
Sawatzky, who supported the new model, admits to having some regrets.
“I wish we didn’t have to deal with it and these issues weren’t those mandated to be in-camera,” he said of legal contracts and personnel matters being dictated by provincial legislation.
“You appear secretive and that’s not how we want to appear. We try to be proactive in our communications and I don’t know if we always get it right, but we have constraints.”