The infrastructure deficit

Beyond the headlines column by Richard Rolke touches on Greater Vernon's infrastructure needs

Infrastructure. It’s become more than a buzz word.

Anyone who dodges potholes or looks at their water bill, knows significant capital works are required. It’s been suggested that $125 million is needed to bring all roads and utilities up to standard in just Vernon itself.

But that’s not the only infrastructure deficit facing us.

Some Greater Vernon politicians went as pale as the Twilight cast after hearing the recreation complex needs $2 million in repairs. But instead of just rubber-stamping the work, directors wisely want to consider the best use of tax dollars. Preliminary figures for a new multi-million-dollar complex are now being developed as part of the overall discussion.

Just a few blocks away, preserving the community’s heritage is challenging because there isn’t climate and light control at the museum and art gallery. A goat trail winds its way through the museum as an ever-growing collection encroaches on the remaining walking space, while the art gallery struggles with limited room to provide workshops to the public.

Ring up about $5 million for a new art gallery, with a museum likely being similar.

Next up, kids must leave town to train because the Polson Park track isn’t regulation size or rubberized. Football players are scrambling because field conditions aren’t suitable.

The solution is a proposed sports complex next to Okanagan College but the price tag is a staggering $7.8 million.

Grahame Park and Kin Race Track may leave people with the impression that Vernon has lots of ball fields, but try holding a tournament at them. Washrooms can’t keep up with large crowds and keeping a hungry crowd satisfied is a virtual impossibility.

And then there’s Civic Arena, which was opened when Hitler was invading countries in Europe. It’s not going to last forever.

Of course Greater Vernon’s situation isn’t unique.

Armstrong-Spallumcheen has been looking at ways to pump more life into Hassen Arena. In Lumby, the community struggles with the huge dollars ultimately needed to replace the aging Pat Duke Memorial Arena and pool.

There will be those who say sports and culture are frills, and given the need for clean water just to live, some perspective is necessary.

But who wants a town devoid of recreational opportunities for our kids and grandchildren? You may want to be an active senior but how do you achieve that if there isn’t an arena for oldtimers hockey, a pool to exercise in or a gallery to nurture your soul?

The recession has heightened the need for economic renewal but that just doesn’t happen.

You have to give potential investors a reason to set up shop here, and particularly with the high-tech sector, many of their employees are going to come from large urban centres where cultural and recreation services are plentiful. Baby boomers will base their retirement destination partly on what a community offers.

And then there is tourism, but a lack of facilities means Vernon can’t host the B.C. Summer Games or other events that would bring thousands of people into town. World-class artifacts that would draw the culturally inclined are in back rooms at the art gallery and museum because of cramped conditions.

There will also be some opposed to their taxes going to services they don’t use, but I can make the argument that I don’t use transit or seniors’ facilities but I pay for them. Also remember that many people want their children or grandchildren to remain in town instead of having to leave for work. They also want an expanded tax base to help lower taxes. Sports and culture allow those things to happen.

 

Ultimately, taxpayers aren’t a bottomless pit and can’t only handle so much burden. But ignoring infrastructure of all kinds also isn’t fiscally prudent and it doesn’t build a sense of community.

 

– Richard Rolke is a senior reporter at The Morning Star. He writes a weekly column called Beyond the Headlines for the newspaper. richard@vernonmorningstar.com