The Ross Street Underpass, taxes and homelessness were among topics touched on by Mayor Alan Harrison in his state of the city address served during a Salmon Arm chamber luncheon.
Representatives of the city’s business community gathered at the Comfort Inn on Friday, Feb. 24, to dine and take in Harrison’s mayoral address, which was broken into segments and accompanied by a slide presentation.
Starting with city operations, Harrison began by likening the city to a business, stating “we try to operate as much like a business as we can.”
“We face the same pressures that you do: employee attraction, employee retention, supply chain issues, inflation, all of those things affect us in the same way they affect what you are doing out there,” said Harrison, explaining not all of the city’s $35 million operating budget (which excludes water and sewer utilities), comes from property taxes.
“About 40 per cent, 42, comes from the sale of services, revenue from other sources and grants. Everything from the admissions at the rec centre to fees for garbage tabs, to grants, to interest on monies that we have, makes up about 42 per cent of our budget. That’s a big piece, and we need to, as businesses do, work on the revenue piece as well.”
Regarding property taxes, Harrison credited this year’s 3.83 per cent increase in part to work done by past councils who kept finances in check.
One of Harrison’s slides was a recent image of the Ross Street Underpass. The mayor pointed out in the image how you can now see through to the other side.
“Yes, that is daylight at the Ross Street Underpass,” said Harrison, calling the project the city’s “biggest, most complex” undertaking, and thanked residents for supporting the project in 2018. Harrison pointed to another detail in the image, one of the sidewalks under construction, which he called the David Askew sidewalk. He said when the design work was being done, sidewalks on both sides dipped into the underpass.
“So David said, well, what happens if one of the sidewalks, we raise it, so people with mobility issues don’t have to go down and up, because that’s a problem for them,” said Harrison. “So that sidewalk is going to be pretty level… It cost a little bit more money but it’s absolutely worth it.”
The underpass is expected to be open to traffic by April.
The mayor also spoke to the Salmon Arm West highway project, crediting the city’s engineering department and Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo, among others.
“We’re gaining 4.2 kilometres of frontage road,” said Harrison as an aside. “That’s a bit of a hidden benefit because as you know, the south frontage road on the highway has opened up a whole bunch of commercial space and it’s filling already. We needed it.”
Looking ahead, Harrison touted the importance of the city’s strategic priorities plan, and commented on a couple of projects, including Lakeshore Road improvements and upgrading the city’s sewage treatment facility.
“A difficulty that sometimes we have as a community, I think, and as councillors, is there’s some shiny pennies out there like a new swimming pool, a new aquatic centre, and we need one,” said Harrison. “But if your toilet doesn’t work, swimming is secondary. So yes, we are going to build an aquatic centre. We’re going to build a sewage treatment plant first. We have to.”
Regarding challenges faced by the city, the mayor commented on the global economy and, closer to home, on housing and homelessness, and stressed the importance of the city staying in its own lane, not taking on the responsibilities of other levels of government.
“If you move out of your lane and some municipalities in B.C. have done that, you can see the financial situation that they’re in,” said Harrison. “That’s not going to get better if we take on responsibilities that belong to other levels of government; they’re yours. You cannot withdraw the service. So we have to make sure we stay in our lane.”
Harrison said while the city doesn’t build housing, “we can do a lot to encourage, to create the environment where the marketplace can build.”
On the challenge of homelessness, Harrison said in Canada, and Salmon Arm, about 13 per cent of people live at or below the poverty level. Of those people, he said the city and the province “are doing a pretty good job of trying to help out” 12.5 per cent.
“We have all kinds of housing options, we have over 250 housing units managed by CMHA in the city, so that piece I think we’re doing the best we can. That 0.5 per cent, the mental health, addiction piece, is difficult.
“The province of B.C. is responsible for the health system and I don’t know what the answer is for them to solve this problem. But we are dealing with the back end of it and you can see it here. We are doing our best. There’s not an easy answer. I’m totally open to suggestions you might have.
“It’s difficult to see people sleeping in tents when it’s -25 C outside. None of us like that. Equally difficult is finding housing options that will suit those people’s needs.”
Harrison ended his presentation with mention of the Canada 55+ Games coming to Salmon Arm in 2024. Taking questions afterward, he was asked for comment about there being no rubberized track in the city. Harrison recognized the need, but said it didn’t make the list of priorities.
“We are working with Rotary, and this is very early stages, for some type of indoor walking track at Shaw Centre,” said Harrison.
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