New candidates given exposure at election forum

Residents got an opportunity to match faces to the signs, brochures and buttons that have been scattering around West Kelowna since Oct. 14.

Mayoral and councillor candidates visited the Westbank Lions Community Centre last  Thursday evening for the first local all-candidates meeting of this year's civic election.

Put on by the West Kelowna Residents' Association, the meeting gave all candidates an opportunity to introduce themselves, answer three questions and give closing remarks.

The evening was especially beneficial to new candidates who were previously unknown to many members of the community.

Candidates Gux Albrecht, Rick de Jong, Rusty Ensign, Gordon Ficke, Randall Robinson and Cathy Sinclair attempted to steal the spotlight from incumbent councillors David Knowles, Gord Milsom, Duane Ophus, Bryden Winsby and Carol Zanon.

The only councillor candidate not in attendance was Mike Smith.

The first question posed to Albrecht, de Jong and Ensign was whether or not council's decision to increase taxes by approximately 50 per cent of what was suggested by the chief financial officer three years ago, was a smart idea.

"I believe this community needs to focus on economic development so we will not be faced with tax increases," said Albrecht.

"Government needs to realize that they do not have any finances of their own: The tax burden is on the taxpayers and the business investment community of West Kelowna," said de Jong.

"You get what you pay for. It's about taxation reserves, so if you don't want any taxes, you're not going to get any services," said Ensign.

The first question asked of Ficke, Knowles and Milsom dealt with council's decision to extend an amnesty period by another year for owners of illegal secondary suites to come forward, despite a dismal three per cent response in the first amnesty period.

"Illegal suites have always been a very touchy issue in every municipality. I think that it was a good policy and I think that we should continue with it," said Ficke.

"If there weren't the secondary suites, the people would literally be out on the streets. I think it was really important that council put this policy forward," said Knowles.

"The whole idea was to ensure that the suites were safe and to encourage affordable housing and to ensure that the owners paid their fair share of utilities. The results have been favourable compared to most communities in the Okanagan," said Milsom.

Ophus, Robinson and Sinclair were asked if they believed council has done enough to gauge public reaction before introducing new bylaws. Ophus took the opportunity with the microphone to address an earlier question.

"I want to go back to the tax question that was asked because I want to make the point that council increased taxes less than five per cent every single year because of savings we found. It was never done at the expense of the reserves. We went out with our staff and found savings so that we could bring those savings home to the taxpayer," said Ophus.

"Everybody's hearts are in the right place, (but) we need to do a much better job of hearing what people are saying, paying attention to that and looking for the pitfalls that might affect the people that didn't happen to show up at the council meeting," said Robinson.

"I think the bylaws need to go to the people. Far more advertising needs to be done as far as the bylaws go," said Sinclair.

The last group of councillors to answer the first round of questions was Trenn, Winsby and Zanon. They were asked if they were satisfied with where their police dollars were going.

"Every one of us that's a property owner here pays an average of $346 per year for policing. I never used the police last year, can I get my money back? Are we getting good value for it? It's a very expensive item and I think it needs attention; we can work with our finance department (to) dig out good information," said Trenn.

"There is a short answer and that is: Yes. Without a thorough cost benefit analysis, I can't give you precise detail on whether we're getting full value for what we're spending on protective service. But I'll give you some numbers. Between 2009 to 2011, break and enters are down 22 per cent for residences, theft of auto is down 39 per cent, fraud is down 50 per cent (in West Kelowna). I'd give the police credit," said Winsby.

"You've given me a really tough one to answer because I have a son who is an RCMP officer, a son-in-law who is a fire chief and a son who is a paramedic. Each of them would tell us that we're getting far more value in service that we're actually paying for," said Zanon.

The two mayoral candidates, incumbent Doug Findlater and former mayor Rosalind Neis, faced off with a unique set of questions. They were asked what their vision of West Kelowna was.

"We're already an attractive, livable place. We have to have safe places to walk, drive and cycle. We can get a good start on that by upgrading our major roads with sidewalks, bike paths and streetlights. Our greatest public asset is our waterfront and we have to begin the transformation of that," said Findlater.

"Three years from now I hope that everyone here will say that the council that had just served them, listened to them. I hope they say that the council was able to bring some change to our community and heal some of the old wounds that we all know exist," said Neis.


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