Costin Hall in Lantzville was brimming with residents as the town gathered for an all-candidates’ meeting Sunday afternoon.
The meeting, moderated by former mayor Colin Haime on Oct. 2, saw eight out of nine council candidates in attendance each speak their piece on why they deserved a seat at the table.
There are two mayoral candidates, Mayor Mark Swain and hopeful Stan Pottie. Seven council candidates including Joan Jones, Jonathan Lerner, Shandra Mayes, Rachelle Mundell, Coun. Ian Savage, Karl Wiese and John Dunn – who was not in attendance due to medical reasons – are vying for four council chairs.
As part of the meeting, two questions were asked of all candidates and each hopeful was given two minutes to respond. The first question queried what action each candidate would take regarding district budgets and spending priorities.
Swain said there was need to “look outward” at what other communities were doing and that a fulsome review of service levels needed to be completed.
“If elected, I will be establishing the executive committee on council that will be dealing with governance including the ongoing oversight of how the municipality runs, including the identification of inefficiencies … I’ll be recommending that new growth tax revenue also known as new development taxation be applied to our asset reserves, such as road replacement,” he said.
Savage started off by saying the past four years had seen more than 68 per cent in total tax increases.
“In good part due to continued hiring of new staff. This must be a B.C. record,” he said. “I voted against all of this, it’s unjustified and unacceptable … But here’s the catch, we need a 66-per cent majority on council to do any staff level changes. That’s provincial legislation. That’s four out of five on council that have to approve it. So if you want tax relief, make sure you get four candidates who support this.”
According to Mundell, it was also clear to her that “a large percentage” of spending was in the district office and said one staff member received a 16-per cent pay increase.
“This is unnecessary and irresponsible in a municipality of this size,” she said, adding that, if elected she would recommend a review of these expenditures and advocate for a cap on staff wage spending in the annual budget. “Council has control of the amount allocated, so I will do my best to ensure that this is a reasonable set amount that the [chief administrative officer] will need to work within.”
“A top priority I hear from people is affordability,” said Lerner. “We cannot continue to price people out of their homes. The good news is that there are clear things the new council can do to get things right … We can look at all future development proposals with an eye to costs, ensuring that they are tax-neutral or tax-positive.”
He continued to say that there was nothing wrong with well-planned, environmentally sustainable, semi-rural, fiscally responsible development, so long as it paid for itself.
As Dunn was not present, Haime read his response: “As a councillor I will work with my fellow councillors to address the budgets that are put forward by staff to curb excessive spending and staffing increases that seem to be based on the promise of revenues from future development and make sure that we are not spending more that we take in. I believe that Lantzville should not spend money that we do not have by increasing taxes and putting that burden onto the present taxpayer.”
The second question all candidates were asked concerned their approach to development approval decision-making.
“From my point of view, from watching what was going on over the last four years, we were trying to build a city inside a town. And it is a town. And that’s the way it’s going to stay,” said Pottie. “If I’m mayor of Lantzville, it will stay a town. And we’ll build according to what the people here want to have built, not what some developer wants to have built.”
Weise said his approach would be to talk with the re-zoning applicant and ensure the application meets the current municipal guidelines.
“As well as how that application aligns itself with the OCP … I would talk with the residents who would be immediately impacted by any re-zoning,” he said.
Mayes prefaced her response by stating she doesn’t have an agenda of pushing development forward, but that she does understand the town needs it.
“I’m pro-progress, I’m pro-community. I’m also pro-OCP, but I’m just not stuck on that number,” she said. “I want to bring some amenities to Lantzville, but we need development for those amenities to thrive and survive. I want green spaces and green places. But we need staff to maintain them.”
“We have an approach that is failing. Major decisions on development do require support from the majority of residents. Residents require transparency,” Jones said, adding that a responsive council could do better. “Let’s engage residents with round-tables, advisories, even online surveys. Let’s get their views heard by council earlier on in the development approval process and before developers are fully invested in their plans.”
The municipal election is set for Oct. 15. For more information, visit www.lantzville.ca.