Whoever is elected mayor Nov. 19 will have water on their hands.
The question of how to upgrade Houston’s ageing and tainted water system was the big-ticket item at the Nov. 8 all-candidates forum. It is a costly issue that has not seeped away since March, when residents voted down a proposal to hike water rates 30 per cent and install a $4.5 million treatment plant.
“My feeling on this is that we just need to go back to the drawing board,” said Lance Hamblin, one of three mayoral candidates.
Vanderhoof recently put in a system for “basically the same water and a whole lot less money,” Hamblin said, adding that the current plan is likely to cost up to $5.5 or $6 million when built.
“I think Lance’s figures are a little flawed,” said incumbent mayor Bill Holmberg. “The $4.5 million—don’t get too hung up on that—that was worst-case scenario.”
Engineering director Michael Glavin gave council several options, Holmberg added, and the $4.5 million plant was the best option given the quality of Houston’s water and how far it has to travel.
A questioner challenged candidate Phyllis Jellett for supporting the new leisure facility, saying that project has sapped the town’s borrowing power and put water treatment out of reach.
Jellett defended her support for the pool, and said that as mayor she would do her homework on getting grants for the water system.
“Arenas and pools are white elephants,” she said. “They don’t make money for themselves, but they make money for the hotels and restaurants.”
Regarding water system funding, Jellett said, “I have to get involved to find out what’s working right now for the District of Houston,” adding that the solution will be either a provincial or a federal grant.
All three candidates pledged to keep lobbying Victoria for 24-hour health care.
And both Hamblin and Holmberg said that if elected, they would look to sign revenue-sharing deals with any future mines that draw on District services.
“You can no longer wrap your community around a mine in order to get taxation,” said Hamblin. Houston is lucky to have both Caterpillar and Komatsu equipment suppliers, he added, noting that they supply most of the mobile equipment used in B.C. mines.
Holmberg also spoke to how Houston can capitalize on new northwest mines like Red Chris and Galore Creek.
“I think for transportation purposes, Smithers is going to be the hub. We want to tie into that,” he said. “I’m the manager at Finning and we already have a huge spin-off for this kind of business.”
In their prepared remarks, Houston’s three mayoral candidates tried to set themselves apart.
“I’ve read that you can judge a community by how it treats its elderly and low-income people,” said Jellett. If elected, she said her first priority would be to call a round table of council, local business owners, Community Futures and the public to find holistic ways of making a Houston stronger community.
Lance Hamblin said Houston has great strengths in its sawmills and room to grow its mining industry. But the current council lacks a long-term vision for the community, he added, and it is too passive at the regional level.
“I really believe we need to engage outside the community and have a much bigger and stronger presence than we’ve had.”
Bill Holmberg said that Houston is on much better footing now that his council has hired a new management team to run everyday operations at the District.
Holmberg also said he plans to keep his focus on keeping Houston’s property taxes low.
“If I’m re-elected, I’m going to operate in the same way I have been. I’m going to be accountable. I’m going to be fiscally responsible.”
Voters can cast their ballot for local government elections Saturday Nov. 19 at the Houston Community Hall.