While figures which show that Summerland lost more than two per cent of its population between 2009 and 2010 concern Mayor Janice Perrino, she believes that this drop does not signal a long-term decline in the population of the community.
“No,” she said. “I think it will turn around as the economy turns around,” she said.
B.C. Statistics estimates that the population of Summerland dropped by 251 residents to 11,007 during the period between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010. This drop places Summerland among the top five communities with the fastest declining populations in terms of percentages. Only Oliver (5 per cent), Grand Forks (3.8 per cent), Mackenzie (3.3 per cent) and Merritt (2.3 per cent) recorded larger declines.
The figures tracking population change at the regional and municipal level reveal that the provincial population grew just under 71,000 to exceed 4.5 million between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010.
But this overall increase in the provincial population features regional variations with the South Okanagan along with the rest of the Okanagan ranking as the largest demographic loser.
Perrino blamed the drop on structural factors such as the aging population of the community and more immediate reasons such as the poor state of the global economy.
“The economy has been down,” she said. “You cannot do anything about this.”
News of Summerland’s declining population, which from the outside signals stagnation and decline, arrived against the background of less than rosy developments in the local economy.
Aspects of this portrait include the recent loss of several hundred jobs with changes in the declining agricultural industry, rising food-bank use and the scuttling of several high profile projects such as failed plans for a major golf resort development and the so-called Wharton Street project, an ambitious multi-use project to revitalize downtown including the public library.
Faced with these developments, council has agreed to ask citizens whether they would support Summerland becoming the site for a provincial prison project that could generate additional revenues but potentially damage the town’s reputation.
While Summerland fails to meet several key criteria for such a facility, public input eventually forced council including Perrino who had initially opposed the facility to launch public consultations.
Council, more immediately, plans to review the Wharton Street project next week and reveal plans to increase density throughout the downtown core to lower the cost of housing, said Perrino, citing this condition as one of the major obstacles to attracting younger people to live and work in the community.
“This zoning bylaw (review) will be the most important of (this council’s) three years,” she said, in promising that council will continue to work on ways to improve the long-term prospects of Summerland.
She also warned against acting out of “desperation” as it might lead to unintended consequences.
“You can’t let fear override your good judgement,” she said.