Activities inside city hall had Vernon’s mayor on the hot seat Monday.
Much of the forum at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre saw newcomers Patrick Davies and Rob Sawatzky challenge incumbent Wayne Lippert over staffing levels, taxes and a pay increase for the incoming mayor.
“We need to get our house in order and then we can start doing other things,” said Davies, who called for an external study into city staffing levels.
That brought a sharp response from Lippert, who says external audits have been done of departments to ensure efficiencies.
“If you are prepared to cut staff, be prepared to cut services,” he said.
Davies insisted his goal isn’t to cut staff because they will be needed once the economy improves.
“We need to identify what’s going wrong and what’s going right.”
Lippert defended the city hiring 54 new employees in recent years, saying some were mandated by the RCMP while others provide services under contract to adjacent jurisdictions.
“We gain revenue from the regional district to help offset our costs.”
However, Sawatzky questioned the shift away from a regional economic development function and he blamed fighting between Vernon and other local jurisdictions.
“If we repair our relationship, we can move forward on our economic strategy,” he said, adding that the outlying areas have land for industry.
Sawatzky also took aim at a recent council decision that will see the next mayor receive a four per cent ($2,800) increase in compensation.
“Taking that raise in these economic times is bad optics. I would refuse the raise,” he said.
If elected mayor, Davies says he would donate the raise to charity.
“It needs to be back in the community. There needs to be a two-year freeze on wages until we get the economy going,” he said.
Debate at the forum, which drew about 400 people, also revolved around possibly reducing the number of lanes on 43rd Avenue.
“The issue is the level of communication and collaboration,” said Sawatzky of concerns from merchants that they weren’t consulted by the city.
“We need to deal with the way administration and engineering works with businesses.”
Davies slammed council’s recent decision to ask city staff for more information on the plan.
“When a 1,000-name petition shows up, why don’t we stop it? Why do we send it back to staff?” he said.
Lippert, though, says council has heard from people opposed and in support of the road change.
“The decision of council was to look at implementation and public input was part of that. No decision was made just to do it,” he said.
“It’s not a done deal and council is listening.”