As Houston residents prepare to head to the polls on Oct. 20, Houston Today has reached out to the district’s 11 councillor candidates to find out what their plans are for the next four years.
Eight of these candidates did not respond by press time. Mayoral candidate Shane Brienen, who’s running unopposed, was not asked for a comment.
Here’s what councillor candidates Jonathan Van Barneveld, John Siebenga and Peter Aman had to say.
What do you think are Houston’s biggest challenges?
Van Barneveld: Growing the business community: there has always been a struggle to attract new and innovative business to town. I think we need to take a different approach to make the town a more inviting place. If the downtown is more inviting, it could make people want to start up a business, or move existing ones out of their homes. Houston has many home-based businesses and I think we should learn from them about the barriers and things that would entice them to move into the downtown. I think further beautification is an essential pillar of how this town needs to advance over the long term.
Infrastructure replacements: much of Houston’s infrastructure is old and coming to the end of it’s life. The costs of replacement over the next few decade will be staggering. We’ve already started preventative maintenance programs and some replacements. The trick will be to try and keep costs down over the long term. To accomplish this, our next greatest challenge is the negotiations with the province as part of the Northwest Resource Benefits Alliance. This effort to secure resource revenue sharing will benefit all communities in the northwest, and it is a critical component to ensuring the long term sustainability and vitality of our communities.
Siebenga: The social fabric of our community is changing with the influx of people taking advantage of the low cost of housing in Houston – drugs and alcohol abuse are more prevalent than in the past; because of government cutbacks in the past, the needs of this new population are not being met because the resources are out of town.
The ongoing need to diversify the economy of Houston. When Houston Forest Products closed its doors, there was a strong warning there not to put all our eggs in a wooden basket.
Hwy. 16 has been started with the north side being curbed and side walked this past summer. Now the south side needs to be done.
The downtown core also requires our attention and we just recently had a group in studying what could be done. Improving the downtown fits in with marketing our town for the traveller.
On a more regional level, the communities from Fraser Lake to Haida Gwaii to Atlin have to keep the pressure on the provincial government to acknowledge the claims of the Resource Benefits Alliance.
Aman: I think a couple of big challenges that are facing Houston right now are how to continue to attract new business and services to the community given the increased economic development in the Asia Pacific Transportation Corridor in conjunction with the recent large investment in pipeline and gas processing infrastructure. There will be plenty of other communities looking to capitalize on new business coming to the area over the next decade and we need to set ourselves apart from the rest.
Another big challenge is preserving the naturally amazing beauty of our valley and the wide variety of recreational activities available within the community while continuing to increase ease of use, visibility, and access for locals and visitors alike.
What do you think council’s priorities should be over the next four years? What changes would you like to see in Houston?
Van Barneveld: Beautification and attraction of new residents and business: I think we need to take an aggressive approach to marketing and promoting our town as a great place to live. We need to show people that we are a great place to do business, with affordable lifestyles and endless recreation opportunities. It’s time that we take Houston to this ‘next level’ and hopefully over the long term we can see the benefits and economic stability that comes with a diverse community and business sector.
Increasing our tourism profile: Over the past number of years, Houston’s tourism profile has increased dramatically. We’ve been recognized numerous times as a great place to visit, and many of our areas parks and trails are world class. While Houston will always rely on forestry as it’s main driver, the tourism sector is key for further development in the area.
Siebenga: Even if Resource Benefits Alliance is not recognized by the provincial government, council has to make the infrastructure a priority. The sewer lines have yet to be done and there could be issues there as the lines have been in for a long time. It is so important that these lines are fixed before new pavement is put down. And yes the roads need repair badly.
One of the beautification ideas that should be a priority in the next four years is the inclusion of shade trees for the streets and avenues of down town.
Council needs to continue to work on making Houston age and disability friendly. We have a good plan and start; we just have to keep fleshing it out.
Council really needs to put teeth into the ‘wood first’ bylaw. Too many buildings are going up in Houston without a stick of wood in them, except that which is hidden behind drywall. We need to showcase our most important resource.
Aman: What I would like to see in Houston is more small and medium sized businesses starting up or returning to our district. There are many ways to support this, such as encouraging an entrepreneurial-friendly atmosphere, working to bring back the college to provide unique skills to our workforce, working with Service BC to ensure our community has access to all the available programs and opportunities to maximize the qualified labour force and make it easier on employers to bring on both new and experienced workers, and working with land-use plans to ensure the right development areas for businesses.
I would also like to see some of the long-term beautification plans, trail programs and arts and culture programs come to fruition. I would also like to see the District continue to work with at-risk and underprivileged groups to ensure they are not left behind but rather are a strong factor in our ability to attract business and bolster our economy. These are what I believe should be priorities for council in the coming term.