Kootenay Economy focus of AKBLG Conference

Local politicians and community leaders gathered in Kimberley at the end of April for the annual AKBLG Conference.

Local politicians and community leaders gathered in Kimberley at the end of April for the annual Association of Kootenay and Boundary Local Governments (AKBLG) Conference, under the theme, “The Kootenays: A Great Place to do Business.”

The AKBLG is the local government association that represents the municipalities and electoral districts of southeastern British Columbia. Its makeup includes the Regional Districts of East Kootenay (RDEK), Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) and Central Kootenay (RDCK) and as well as the town of Golden and village of Valemont as one of five area associations that form that Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM).

The purpose of the annual conference is to identify issues that impact the environment, economy and social well-being in southeastern B.C. and come up with resolutions that can be further discussed at the UBCM Convention in September later this year.

This year’s conference featured a number of speakers from across B.C. who contributed to the theme of doing business in the Kootenays. Greg Caws, President and CEO of BC Innovation Council, was the conference’s keynote speaker, talking about his background in technology and what the province is doing to encourage growth in this sector of the economy.

Gerry Taft, mayor of Invermere, found the presentation by Celeste Mullin to be of specific interest to the Invermere community. Mullin is the vice president of corporate business for Golden Life Management, which is the Kootenays’ largest seniors housing and care provider in addition to being the sixth largest employer.

“We have two facilities here in Invermere that are managed by (Golden Life) so what was probably most interesting was hearing more about what she envisions or sees as potential future trends that might be coming down the road in the future,” Taft said after the conference.

Other smaller talks included a presentation from Dr. Terri MacDonald who serves the region in her role as BC Regional Innovation Chair in rural economic development. RDEK director Gerry Wilkie said he found this talk of specific importance as it dealt with research on economic development directly in the Kootenays.

“Her research is original and it’s focused on the Kootenays so it’s not as if it’s something that’s borrowed from the Harvard Business School,” he said. “I think in particular my interest is the sleeping giant of agriculture, even if it’s on a small-scale.”

He said this includes topics such as local food production, food safety and food security. Coincidentally, the RDEK board recently passed a resolution to further their agricultural planning over the next year.

One of the main resolutions that came out of the AKBLG conference that will be brought forward to the UBCM later this year dealt with short-term rentals in relation to traditional commercial hotels in the Radium area. Currently, there is no legislation mandating vacation rentals by owner to pay business licences or any regulated fees, allowing them to pocket more money than commercial accommodators like hotels.

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Clara Reinhardt, mayor of Radium, said they conducted a study over the Easter weekend and discovered there were over 80 vacation rentals by owner listed in the area. This realization prompted discussion amongst local politicians on how to level the playing field for local businesses and those looking to lease their property to tourists.

“We don’t want to stop it,” Reinhardt said. “We want to manage it. We want it to be fair for everyone. They have the right, to a certain degree, to do with the property what they need to do, but the accommodators, who are paying commercial taxes, are paying sales taxes. It’s not a level playing field; that’s the concern.”

The resolution was passed unanimously and will be studied further before being brought forward to the UBCM later this year.

Taft said one of the key things the AKBLG membership is trying to upgrade is the resolution process at the UBCM in order to improve communication with the province and increase lobbying power.

The UBCM conference will be held on September 26th to 30th at the Victoria Conference Centre.

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