Empty public seats raise questions from mayor and council

Empty seats greeted the mayor and council during last week's five year financial plan, public consultation meeting held in council chambers.

Empty seats greeted the mayor and council during last week’s five year financial plan, public consultation meeting held in council chambers.

No members of the public turned up to hear what the Village of Burns Lake has in store for the next five years.

Councillor Luke Strimbold said he was very disappointed that there were no members of the public present for the special meeting.

He suggested that a town hall meeting [for the five year financial plan, public consultation] may have attracted more local residents. “No one showed up for this meeting. Another location may have allowed more interaction with the community,” Coun. Strimbold said.

Councillor Eileen Benedict agreed with Coun. Strimbold, however she felt that earlier interaction with the public would have been more beneficial in the 2011 village budgeting process.

“It would allow the public more meaningful input in the budget,” she added.

Village of Burns Lake chief administrative officer Sheryl Worthing said to council that this is the sixteenth year she has been involved in the budgeting process. “This is the sixteenth year that no one has shown up, so something is obviously not working, or the public are not interested,” she added.

Mayor Magee suggested that community input at an early stage in the budgeting process would allow the community to have more ownership.

Councillor Benedict said she felt it would be beneficial to consult with the community before the process is completed as the public would then have a better understanding of what council’s role is and why certain decisions are made.

“For example the Fifth Avenue water tower remediation project is just seen by the community as a line item in the budget, so the public has no explanation of why we need the funds for it, or where we get the funding from,” she added.

“I disagree,” said Coun. Quentin Beach.

“It’s a small town and everybody is busy. This is why we are elected. If we were to rent a town hall we would face the possibility of just having Rebecca [from Lakes District News] show up,” he said.

Beach went on to say that councillors are elected for a three year term and if the public feel they have not done a good job during this time they would not be re-elected.

Worthing added, “Every council meeting is a public meeting. Everyone has the opportunity to attend and at the end of the day it is our goal to make sure that we let the public know that. We do advertise all of the meetings.”

“I think the public are more interested in the capital plan than the budget,” said Coun. John Illes.

He also cautioned council about going to the public with premature tax increases until final assessments are in.

“We had a dramatic increase in assessments this year, I think we should be leery about going to the public with tax increases until the final assessments are in,” he added.

Councillors agreed.

Councillors also agreed to involve the public early in the process of the 2012 budgeting discussions and have discussed holding town hall style meetings, however a final decision has not been made at this point.

Highlights from the Village of Burns Lake five year financial plan include community energy, with a focus on self sufficiency, the Tom Forsyth Memorial Arena and finding solutions to ensure that operating and capital costs are fully funded in the future, the downtown core redevelopment  project starting with the refurbishment of the gateway to Tweedsmuir Park historic sign, park capital for minor improvements to both the Rod Reid Trail and the Eveneshen Trail,  the replacement of the Burns Lake Fire and Rescue Department’s fire truck pumper number one, solar lighting at Spirit Square, the Fifth Avenue water reservoir resurfacing and the sanitary force main project which will be completed in 2011.

The project was started in 2010 to improve the force main located between the Pioneer Way lift station and the sewage lagoon facility.

Copies of the Village of Burns Lake’s five year financial plan, public consultation  can be picked up from the Village of Burns Lake office.