Asked by an audience member how she thinks she’ll see the City of Armstrong and Township of Spallumcheen 20 years down the road, incumbent councillor Shirley Fowler took the microphone and answered honestly.
“I’ll be 83 in 20 years. How will I see things? Probably dimly,” grinned Fowler and, with that, garnered the loudest laughs and applause from close to 80 people in Armstrong’s Centennial Hall Tuesday at the Armstrong Spallumcheen Chamber of Commerce’s all-candidates forum.
The question was one of 11 posed to 10 of 11 council hopefuls in a nearly two-hour forum (Robert Thibeau did not take part due to illness).
Fowler said she sees the city rising in density and the township still lush with farmland, though heavy with building in the southeast sector in 20 years. But she also sees the continuation of what has been an improved working relationship between the two communities.
“The last term has been one of the most engaging three years between Armstrong and Spallumcheen,” she said. “The staff at Spall and staff at the city have made great strides in bringing together issues that were at a deadlock for awhile. There has been engagement on both sides.”
Fellow incumbents Paul Britton and Ron (Sully) O’Sullivan have been through the forums and campaigns before, but even they can get taken aback by a question from the floor.
One woman asked about improving access for people with disabilities, after explaining how her mother-in-law had wheelchair access issues.
“I really didn’t know there was that lack of access,” said Britton. “We better do something because, right now, our population is 19 per cent seniors, and in 2030 we’re going to be 30 per cent over 65 years old. We better make it accessible throughout town for our seniors to get around. It’s definitely an issue.”
Added O’Sullivan, council’s representative on Armstrong’s age-friendly committee: “We’ve been going around town and looking at access issues. We’re working on trying to establish which places are not accessible and which ones are. It’s a work in progress, and we’ll make sure we’re doing it right.”
To a person, the seven hopefuls in attendance looking to join council praised the work of the current administration on a number of factors, including keeping taxes low.
“It’s extremely important to have financial strategies in place to ensure a balance and a first-line business and economic development plan, something that is realistic, achievable and that makes sense for Armstrong,” said candidate Kerry Bennington. “If we hold taxes to zero percentage and still maintain and meet objectives we have, that would be the best alternative.”
Said retired city worker Lance McGregor: “Having worked on the other side of the tracks, I can tell you, you can’t keep taxes at zero because the stuff in the ground gets old and wears out. If you want less services, you can have less taxes. If you want services, you need to have taxes. It’s a common thing. It’s not going to get any better but it’s not going to get any worse.”
One of the first questions asked of all candidates was if there was one thing that could be undone over the past three years, what would it be. All candidates said “not a thing.”
“I read an article that said Armstrong was the No. 2 city in B.C. for good operations management in keeping taxes in line,” said Gil Melin. “I think we want to keep going the same way we’re going.”
A member of the city’s heritage committee asked the newcomers if they were interested in preserving the city’s history.
“I think strongly that it’s fairly important to remember your past and to look after your past,” said Linda Werner. “I love the museum, I love what goes on there, and I’d be in favour of seeing it continue.”
Added Dave McKechnie: “I do believe that we can make an effort to keep the heritage we can preserve that doesn’t stand in the way of progress.”
A question was asked about improving tourism. Helen Jackson said tourism is a huge moneymaker for any community.
“It’s really about economic development,” said Jackson. “The more tourists we get to town, the more money we spend. They’re in our businesses, our restaurants, our campgrounds. We already have a lot of community activities go on and we should continue to support those, and do everything and anything to get the tourists here.”
Steven Drapala, father of three, is the youngest of the candidates, and the question was asked directly to him on what he would do to improve life for young families in Armstrong.
“Affordablility is a big deal, especially with working families, and housing is at a point where there isn’t a lot of affordable housing for those starting out or coming into Armstrong,” said Drapala. “I’d find a way to keep housing prices down, that would be a great start, and maintaining our great parks and recreation programs.”