Election season is in full swing and 14 Parksville council candidates faced off for the second time on Thursday night in Craig Bay.
Moderator Chris Chilton, president of the Craig Bay Residents Association, presented questions collected from residents and gave each candidate one minute to answer.
The exclusive debate was held at the Craig Bay Beach Club.
The theme of the night seemed to be fiscal responsibility and Chilton asked candidates how, if elected, they would address increasing municipal taxes in an area where many are on a fixed income; and how they would fund Island Health’s required water treatment plan if senior government funding doesn’t come through.
Heidi Abbott said she wouldn’t make promises she can’t keep.
“We can do a better job with supporting social services in the city and advocating for that kind of thing,” said Abbott.
Former Parksville Elementary School principal Mary Beil called herself “level-headed” and said she understood many different perspectives. “I hope the city can look at how the scheduling of services is done and try to find ways to reduce costs in some areas to recognize the fact that our city has many seniors and people on fixed incomes,” she said. “Maybe there’s something we can adjust.”
Michael Donegani boasted his lack of affiliation with developers or unions.
“I’m simply a resident of Parksville and a vote for me is a voice for you,” he said, noting he would like to look into a “wage freeze” at city hall.
Jim Gordon said we need to “think outside the box” to raise funds. He said there are other ways of making money besides raising taxes pointing to “triple-P financing” (public-private partnerships).
“There are ways of not increasing taxes to pay for every single thing,” said Gordon.
Al Grier, one of two incumbent councillors running again, advocated for a tax freeze and called himself a “group of one” boasting his history in fiscal responsibility.
Richard Honaizer said it was important to have “open investigations about water.” He said “we’ve paid too much for our water” claiming Parksville has the second highest taxes for water. Honaizer called that “ridiculous” stating “the water department is not a bank.”
Donald Lohvin showed up a few minutes late and apologized to the audience saying “I had a really hard time finding parking.” The crowd laughed, and Lohvin jumped right into the debate saying the city cannot afford “to write a blank cheque” for water. He went on to say he believes creative thinking and financing can be done to bring taxes down.
Kirk Oates said city council should remove barriers to small businesses and promote Parksville’s beach.
“If we do a better job marketing it (Parksville’s beach) to the world it will bring more people here… and perhaps relieve some of the pressure from taxpayers,” said Oates. “We all came here because this is a beautiful place to live and that will continue to be an attraction as long as we don’t put up impediments.”
Teresa Patterson, a former councillor and local business owner, said we need to bring more business to the city.
Patterson said she would like to see council lobby the provincial and federal government for more infrastructure funding.
Roy Plotniko said he surveyed other communities and is “yet to find one that pays even near the water cost we pay.”
Plotniko said he wants to “find out if the city actually needs those inflated rates to function.”
Sue Powell, whose been on council for the last nine years, said “I speak against some of the (previous) comments made about a zero per cent tax increase.”
Powell said “I don’t think that’s realistic if we’re trying to meet our needs,” adding the money that used to be available from senior levels of government “just isn’t there anymore.”
Paul Reitsma, former MLA for this area and Parksville mayor, echoed Powell’s sentiments.
“You need to live within your means. If you spend more than you take in you’ll be in trouble,” said Reitsma, who criticized two items on the city’s budget: protective services and the city’s payout for sick days.
Leanne Salter, currently the Coombs/Errington RDN alternate director, said the downloading of costs from senior levels of government has been an ongoing problem since the late 1980s.
“Now what’s happening is we’re being directed by unelected entities such as Island Health telling us we have to build a water treatment plant but they aren’t giving us the money to do it,” said Salter. “They’re just directing us to do it — therein lies our problem.”
Salter said we shouldn’t be spending or borrowing money, but saving it.
Caroline Waters said there are ways to increase the city’s revenue.
“We have industrial and commercial opportunities in Parksville which all of us need to talk about in a more open minded way if we want to open our tax base,” said Waters, who added she didn’t think it would be a good idea to cut services in a community with a senior demographic. Waters also said she “wasn’t prepared to bash the staff at Parksville” who she called “admirable.”