Over 120 people came to hear from the candidates running for Houston mayor and council at the “All Candidates” meeting last Tuesday.
Mayor candidates Shane Brienen and Bill Holmberg were the biggest target for questions. Below are some questions and answers from the two candidates running for mayor in the next four year term.
With the closure of Houston Forest Products and the resulting loss in District revenue, will you raise taxes or reduce services? If reduce services, where will you start?
Brienen: It’s about balance. Rather then jump taxes up 15 percent or drop a ton of services, we’re looking for an area in the middle. We will continue to provide as much services as we can, and there will be tax increases. In the five year plan, taxes increase between 2.5 and 3 percent every year for the next five years. We are looking at ways to bring that down, but it’s going to be a very tight budget. So far, we’ve chosen not to replace retiring staff and cut some hours at the pool and rink.
Holmberg: We’ve started reducing costs already by not replacing senior staff who retired. We’re also looking at reducing hours at the pool. Every year we raise taxes from two to three percent. We’re going to try to keep that at a minimum. Our focus will be to attract investment and promote secondary manufacturing so that we don’t have to burden taxpayers.
What will you do to promote secondary industry?
Holmberg: The first thing is to get answers from the forest service about Morice River Timber Supply, native rights, and other timber supply issues. Once we know volumes, then hopefully we can work on secondary industry. We’re talking to Canfor and they are looking at things to help get some smaller secondary industry in place.
You talk about seeking changes to forest policy as a region. How will you do that?
Brienen: If we go individually, we all have our needs and it’s very hard for the Province to do something that will work for everyone. I’m on the Omineca Beetle Action Coalition (OBAC) and some ways they’re talking about working together include adopting a Natural Resource Act, improving inventory, accelerating reforestation, updating tenure, growing the value-added sector, and revenue sharing. They ‘re looking at getting the best over-all benefit to communities, strengthening the community’s role in decisions, improving public input, increasing local stewardship capacity, supporting business needs and continuing and expanding market development. There’s many more but those are the key ones.
What do you see as the top priorities for improving infrastructure?
Holmberg: All our infrastructure is failing, like other towns across Canada. Our problem is getting funding. The big ones are the water tower and increased water and sewer lines. We have a good sewer reserve, but we don’t have a good water reserve.
What managerial qualifications do you have to lead the town through the tough times ahead of us?
Brienen: I have a lot of patience and I’m very good at listening and getting back to people. There are tough times ahead and if I’m in that leadership role it will be a matter of getting all of council on board and working in one direction, with one voice, no matter if we differ in opinion.
How many hours a week do you plan to commit to be available as mayor?
Holmberg: I’ll be available from the minute my phone goes on in the morning until it goes off at night. That’s pretty much 24/7 – evenings, mornings, during the day. I have the luxury of working for a company that has encouraged me to take this position and I spend a lot of time doing District work off the corner of my desk, and my boss has no problem with that. My commitment is as long as my phone is on, I’m working for the town and that’s pretty much 24/7.
What is your position on LNG?
Brienen: I think LNG is still a long ways off. At the end of the day, I think it’s good for the region. I don’t think that municipalities will have any say on whether it comes or not. What’s important for us is that if it does come, try and capitalize on it. With Enbridge, I still have huge concerns. They cross two river systems, the Skeena and the top of the Fraser and that’s frightening.
Holmberg: The LNG projects are still a long ways from happening. I think the economic benefits to us in Houston are going to be pretty small. I’m not against LNG, I think there is a lot more work to be done as far as how tanker traffic is going to go down the Douglas Channel. I’m not against the project, I just want to get the most economic benefit for the town of Houston. I think what we’re going to end up with is a compressor sitting out somewhere and a brief bubble when the pipeline is going through. My focus is more on forestry and mining than it is on LNG.
Do you think it’s important to foster relationships with neighbouring communities and if so, how can this be done?
Brienen: If we work together as a region, we’ll grow as region. What’s good for the town down the road is good for us and is another attraction to our area. I think it’s very important to work together as communities especially when it comes to tourism and forest policy. When we go together we’ll get a better response from the Province.
Holmberg: Absolutely. We are on the Regional District with Smithers and Burns Lake. We’re starting to work together better as a region. It’s not new and no, we don’t do it very well, but we are working at it. The Regional District will be instrumental in that. On council, we’ve talked about working with Smithers and Burns Lake and finding common concerns and ideas and things we can work together at. It’s coming. Definitely if we work as a region, the provincial and federal government will listen to us a lot better and we’ll be able to get a little more from them.
How will you deal with the derelict buildings we have in our downtown core?
Brienen: We’ve been working on bylaws and it’s in the early stages. If we have complaints, we will go after people and do what it takes to get it up to standard. The way the new bylaw works, if it’s not up to standard then we go through a process where it’s either a fine or we go in there and do a clean up. We have a little more teeth then we did a few years ago.
Holmberg: I think it’s slowly going away. If you look at Mikes Audio and those guys, they’ve spruced that area up. You have to give people the chance to buy into that and develop. We have an unsightly bylaw and we will look at and may direct our staff to look into that.
What can be done to improve rail safety and avoid a tragic accident?
Brienen: This is a big issue in every community in the northwest. There are a lot of rumours and not a lot of knowledge about what’s going through those trains and there’s a lot of concerns especially with the incident in Quebec recently. There’s a transportation plan going on in the area and we’re trying to get them to work on a lot of those issues. There’s a lot of concerns there and I don’t have any answers right now, but we are taking part in the transportation plan that’s coming up.
Holmberg: The transportation review is going to be huge. Every year at UBCM we try to set up a meeting with CN, and those meetings are painful. They listen to us but I don’t think they really listen. So we’re going to continue to lobby CN. They’re a big conglomerate and they like to do things their way, but I think there’s enough public outcry now, with what’s going on in Quebec, that maybe they’re going to start listening. But it is a huge concern. It’s an ongoing thing, and the transportation review will hopefully come up with some answers.
How will you look at improving the Cottonwood Manor home and how?
Holmberg: We’ve had ongoing conversations about that and I don’t know if there are any easy answers. I like what they’re doing on the other part of town. To be honest with you I haven’t really thought that one through, but I’m all prepared to listen to ideas.
How important are recreation activities to you and what are your plans for the future of recreation in Houston?
Brienen: They are very important. How they fit in the budget is going to be complicated. We’re all very happy and impressed with the work of the Houston Hikers, cross country ski trails, downhill mountain bike track. A lot of that is being done without a lot of money, they’re seeking grants on their own. I think it’s going to be very important moving forward to work on those things.
Holmberg: We have the pool and arena and great hiking trails. At UBCM, I talked to Don Kayne, Canfor CEO, and Christine Kennedy, Vice President of Human Relations. She said they want to do more for the community and we’re in the process of trying to set up some things with her, get money to set up ball fields. We have to get our big industry people involved in the community as well. That’s what we’re working on with Canfor, and they seem to be okay with that.
Please vote! Elections are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, November 15 at the Houston Community Hall.
The advance poll is 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, November 5 at the District of Houston office.