Five candidates are vying for four council positions at the District of Invermere, and voters had the opportunity to compare those in the running at the all-candidates forum last week. Those in the running are incumbents Greg Anderson, Justin Atterbury and Paul Denchuk, as well as newcomer Kayja Becker and former councillor Al Miller. Around 75 people were in the theatre at David Thompson Secondary School on Monday, November 10th for the event moderated by Craig Knapp. Candidates were able to prepare answers as they were given notice of the questions before the forum. After their introduction, the first question was about the quality of Invermere’s drinking water.
The candidates didn’t all agree on what causes the odour or smell from public tap water, but each had a solution. Mr. Atterbury proposed a $200 rebate program towards a carbon filter for each private residence. That solution worked for his business, he said, and the cost of replacing filters would be less than the property tax increase needed for new infrastructure. Ms. Becker said a carbon filter rebate program would be an effective short-term solution, but in order to avoid the perpetual problem of poor water quality, she plans to figure out a long-term solution to replace aging infrastructure. Mr. Anderson said the problem seems to occur in pockets of town, particularly residences serviced near dead ends of water mains, and that the solution will likely require aging infrastructure to be replaced. Mr. Denchuk said carbon filtering the water is a good solution, but he proposed that the district filter the water from the source, which could possibly be installed in tandem with a UV filtration system that’s already planned. Mr. Miller said heavy testing will be required to find the problem, and a solution should be implemented upon further analysis.
Candidates mostly agreed that industrial tax rates are competitive in Invermere. Mr. Anderson said the district’s rates are set at 2.7 times the residential rate, which is almost on par with the 2.63 provincial average — appropriate for Invermere because there isn’t enough industry to support a low tax rate. Mr. Miller said tax rates are competitive, and that his efforts saw them reduced to their current levels during his previous term on council. Ms. Becker said tax rates aren’t too high, but as the district competes with commercial real estate near the crossroads and elsewhere, efforts need to be made to ensure Invermere businesses are receiving top value. Mr. Atterbury said that, like any local business owner, he would benefit from a tax break, but that hypothetically the money would be more valuable to the district. Mr. Denchuk said the current rate is set fairly, right around the provincial average, and that during his campaign he’s only heard one business owner mention high rates as a concern.
Each candidate had a chance to pitch their support toward small business and economic development. Twenty-two-year-old Ms. Becker said the issue is crucial if she’s to live the rest of her life in Invermere, and that the district should collaborate with Panorama Mountain Village and neighbouring hot springs communities for cross promotions. Also, efforts need to be made to entice young entrepreneurs to open shop in the valley, she said. Mr. Miller said the district should work with the regional district to hire an economic development officer. Mr. Denchuk praised the hiring of an events co-ordinator last year, but said it’s best to allow the businesses and Chamber of Commerce to drive growth. Mr. Anderson said a multi-faceted approach is best, allowing for an aging population to live in Invermere and extending the stays of second homeowners, and he supported Mr. Miller’s idea of recruiting an economic development officer. Mr. Atterbury cited the world record breaking Whiteway skating track as an economic driver, and said the valley should become attractive to business owners capable of operating from satellite offices.
With respect to traffic patterns, Mr. Miller hopes to see downtown Invermere more functional with a circular traffic pattern guiding motorists, which would be achieved by sanctioning the road between BMO and Cenotaph Park to pedestrian traffic only during the summer months. Traffic would flow more efficiently, drivers would be guided through more of the downtown, and one block of 7th Avenue would be designated for foot traffic only.
Ms. Becker made a similar suggestion about shutting down a section of downtown during high season, and said the district needs to get a head start on its parking strategy rather than always playing catch-up. Mr. Atterbury sees things differently — he said that bottlenecked traffic is good for the downtown businesses. Mr. Denchuk also believes that slow-moving downtown traffic is beneficial, and said that while “dysfunction junction” is extremely confusing at first, drivers seem to get the hang of things. Mr. Anderson said the district’s parking strategy isn’t as bad as it seems — a study from last summer found that parking exceeded 90 per cent capacity on only two days. However, more efforts should be made to encourage foot traffic and to repel RVs from the downtown, he said.
Affordable housing could have been perceived as a non-issue. Each candidate commended the Family Resource Centre for its success in providing social assistance in the valley. Mr. Denchuk mentioned alternative revenues used in the valley to support family incomes, but said the solution lies directly with the Family Resource Centre, which he’ll continue to support. Mr. Atterbury said housing has been very affordable in the valley since the 2008 economic downturn. Mr. Miller said the district should work in conjunction with developers to ensure that more small-sized lots become available. Ms. Becker said a stronger public transportation system would allow more manoeuvrability, which would increase housing options for locals with no private transportation. Mr. Anderson said if work is needed beyond what the Family Resource Centre provides, then a valley-wide solution is required.