Everything is going to be all right in Qualicum Beach.
That was the tone of The News’ conversation with mayor Teunis Westbroek when the paper sat down with him to get a feel for the state of the town, after the summer lull. (The News had a similar opportunity with Parksville mayor Chris Burger earlier this month).
After a rocky start, to say the least, with the new council makeup presenting even the most casual observer with cause for concern, relations between the mayor and councillors have been levelling out. Why, they have even had the occasion to agree with one another.
What Westbroek said all councillors agree on, is that Qualicum Beach has a very unique sense of place.
“A community needs that,” he said, adding the addition of green space near The Old School House arts centre, while at first controversial among the politicians, has found some level of acceptance.
“It’s someplace green, that you don’t have to pay to go.”
Westbroek’s comments are a little like justification of the town’s purchase of the space, along with the former school district bus garage next door. While vilified early on by councillors Dave Willie and Bill Luchtmeijer for a decision of past council, Westbroek has found that as the town took advantage of the site, the residents have reacted positively.
It is one of many issues that finds Westbroek in a polarizing position on council — him and councillor Scott Tanner often find themselves in a minority situation. Yet, Westbroek isn’t publicly complaining about the situation.
“Council, from the public’s perspective, is doing a good job in watching our expenditures and looking out for the town’s further needs,” he explained.
These days, the mayor said outward displays of disagreement aren’t as bas an issue as they were in, say, January.
“It’s the respect shown and willingness to listen and change minds when needed that has improved things,” he said. “It’s very positive. I have to be positive, and I’m always looking for that positive side.”
Challenges to that outlook do exist, as the mayor finds himself at odds with the majority of council on the Village Neighbourhood Plan. While he disagrees with the movement towards low development cost charges downtown, potentially higher buildings and low town fees for developers, Westbroek said all of this won’t change the downtown core in the long run.
“Are we (the town) the only ones that are going to have to contribute to this (the cost of developments to the community),” he asked. “I don’t feel the town should be the only ones taking a hit.”
His main concern is that he feels the change in policies driven by council, erodes some of the town’s control over these issues. Yet, he admits the town retains some level of control — such as its advisory groups, design panels and more.
For that reason, he said he doesn’t think there will be any grandiose changes in the downtown area.
Next month, the town begins work on its five-year financial plan. It will contain a council wish list of projects and budget priorities — from road works to a new fire hall.
That last one, Westbroek said, is a big ticket item and the town has been planning for it for a while. Past councils, he said, negotiated for a piece of land (where the Berwick reservoir is today) to house a new hall one day. Two years ago, council increased taxes to include a portion going towards a new building — something the town had done with the town hall building. The reason for doing it this way, he said, was to lessen the burden on taxpayers and not take the entire amount in one fell swoop.
“We are in a position now where I could see this happen between two to five years, without seeking tax increases.”
He hopes to exhaust all grant options, but admitted Qualicum Beach will probably end up borrowing some money.
He stands by past directives to upgrade the existing hall to accommodate new trucks. The town has a regular fire equipment replacement policy, that is not waiting for a new hall.
These issues and more will be on the table come time to debate the financial plan.
In the meantime, Westbroek has found time to relax.
In partnership with Parksville mayor Chris Burger and the Oceanside Tourism Association, he was part of the National Relaxation Day initiative that went around the country in media outlets big and small.
What that did for Qualicum Beach, he explained, was give him and Burger the chance to talk and find common ground on local issues, important to both communities.
“Chris and I ended up building a better relationship,” he continued. “It’s a little thing, but good for both communities to know their mayors get along.”
In the end, Westbroek said he’s looking forward to a productive fall, working with a council he knows will work hard for the community.
“We can always do better,” he said, “but council through the years — and for longer than I’ve been around — has worked hard to make sure Qualicum Beach is one of the nicest places to live.”