Wednesday March 7, 2012

City Hall News

A Mayor Minute

From the Paramount Theatre to property taxes

Staff/Voice file photo

 

ayor Sharon Gaetz stopped by 98.3 Starfm Thursday for a chat with morning show personalities Scott and Lisa about what's been happening at City Hall.

 

 For those who missed it, the following are highlights of their conversation, gratefully used with station permission.

 

On The Paramount Theatre

You know we got the Paramount in October 2010 and Landmark walked away, of course we had a few things happen in the background. The Cineplex Odeon came to town, Cottonwood Cinema was already there, and they were struggling, so they walked away and they gifted it to the City.

 

Of course, they gifted it with a few issues. One being boiler that didn't work, it was part of the building program in 1949. Apparently the theatre was built around the boiler, so they couldn't even remove the boiler from the building, so it's huge. Then we found out the roof was leaking. We found out all kinds of things that were going wrong inside the building.

 

Everyone, I think is in love with the theatre itself, because lots of people have memories from it, but really frankly, when I talk to people about it, they're in love with the signs. They love that great big "Paramount" sign in the front. They like being able to drive down Chilliwack, right down Yale Rd. and I know they notice the Starfm signs, it's on the sides of the building. It's eye-catching and really nifty too, but the big Paramount sign really defines what Yale Rd. is about.

 

We really were loathe to demolish it. I have asked staff to retain the sign. We tried to save this building. We went out and we told people 'please, bring us your best ideas' and put a business plan behind it and we'll help you make it happen.

 

We all dreamed for a theatre and then we realized we're not going to be able to make a go of that.

 

Cottonwood Cinemas is struggling, you know with Cineplex coming in. They're doing lots of good things within the community as far as shows go and there didn't seem to be much of an appetite (for a theatre).

 

After we put out our request for proposals, we had two, both of whom didn't include a financial plan. How are they going to pay for it?

 

We've had heaters in there just to keep the mold out of the building in case something were to happen. So it's costing us about $1200 a month to just keep minimal heat on.

 

What you also wouldn't know, is that thieves have been in there. We've had copper wire thieves. One of our staff people actually caught them inside the building and they've been over to the building next door, that is as well, not in good shape.

 

So we have some challenges in the downtown. We ended up deciding that after the call for proposals we wouldn't take any more and then this other Facebook group started up, Save the Paramount.

 

You know I was hearing lots from them. I was watching the kind of chatter and the last thing we want to be accused of is doing things too quickly without thought. I don't want to be known as the Mayor that just didn't listen to the people and went smashed all buildings.

 

I invited them to come to council because I wanted them to be able to say their peace and generally that's not done unless there's a public hearing and there was no public hearing on this.

 

So they came to our council meeting on Tuesday afternoon and by the time they finished, I think all of council thought 'give them a chance', lets see what they can do. Maybe they can, I don't know. Others have tried and tried to put together a business plan and couldn't. But that could be the next step.

 

On Downtown Revitalization

I think the hard part about this whole discussion is the Downtown Revitalization Task Force has just finished their work, and one of the recommendations is that we start taking down buildings and demolishing them downtown. We started comparing lots for redevelopment and creating a neighbourhood in the downtown area.

 

So an example of what that could be, and it may stay empty for awhile because we're in depressed economic times. There's not a lot of developers that want to take a risk. But one of the bold recommendations was, take it (Paramount) down, remediate the land underneath because most of the properties here have some sort of environmental damage underneath.

 

We used to have a Chevron station years ago right on the corner of Nowel and Yale and there's some issue with those kinds of things that we used to have in the downtown core.

 

The recommendation was; cleanup those sites and then prepare for a "new" downtown. One perhaps that would have retail on the bottom, offices on the second floor and then a 6-storey wood frame construction (residences) so we'd actually have people living in the downtown, working in the downtown.

 

The City has to assemble land, and of course whenever you say that out loud, you run a risk too, because everyone who owns land goes 'oh, goodie, the City wants to buy some land' and the prices go up so, we have to be really careful as we do this.

 

I think the group that did the Downtown Task Force, they're brilliant people. One of the guys was Van Marin who built the courthouse, and the developer building there, the little restaurant and helped that whole corner where Promontory Church is and now the federal services building that's there.

 

All of that they've done and these people have a vision of downtown, so we've got to see what happens with that. I know one of the "Letters to the Editor", talked about missing teeth and how we'd have these gaping holes, and it's true. But some of us have had 6 or 7-year-old children who lose their teeth.

 

I'm 56-years-old, and they told us it would take 30-years just to start revitalizing the downtown and I don't want to wait that long and my council didn't want to wait that long, so we said, 'let's do something that will actually stimulate the growth in the downtown area' and make it what people can be proud of.

 

Will it look the same? Probably not if we have our dream. There's a reason why things fail. There's a reason and if we go back and repeat those mistakes and try to build what we used to have in 1963, I don't think we'll be successful.

 

We're pressing ahead. We're holding our breath and we're all working really really hard.

 

On Property Taxes

Taxes are going up (to 3.4 per cent). There are some reasons why they're going up. One, first of all, is we always have to take into consideration inflation. The second thing that we have to take into consideration is there's 30 per cent of our budget that we over that; the RCMP. So when you have 30 per cent, a third of your budget, you can't really do anything about, there's a 6 per cent increase in that 30 per cent that we really don't determine, so that's one (reason).

 

But we also added some services, but before I tell you about the lovely services and the gifts, I do want to tell you as well, we have the good news to be proud of, is we have the lowest taxes in the Lower Mainland. We are below every single community. Abbotsford, Mission, Langley. We're below them all in broad taxes, like for their hospital tax, your regional district tax, your school taxing, your municipal tax we're below them all.

 

On municipal taxes, we're second from the bottom. Surrey beats us because they have more industrial and commercial land. When you get your taxes as a homeowner, and say they're $1500, then the City of Chilliwack, the same amount would be over $3000 for a business. So, they get more money to do that.

 

I'm really proud of that (low taxes). You know, as a matter of fact, I am really excited, and I'm sorry to everyone from Abbotsford who might be listening, I really truly am, I'm not even smiling while I'm saying this... but we're 35 per cent less on the same home, an average home in the city of Chilliwack than in the city of Abbotsford and I think we have a lot to be proud of in our community.

 

We are always talking about affordable housing and how do we do that. And this is one of the ways. I think, honestly, I've got to give credit to our staff because they get the value of not having huge spikes in taxation and having a new council in saying, 'okay, zero, zero, we're not going to add anything to the budget'.

 

It's a little bit like in your home. There are some scarce years. But if the roof goes, you've got to fix it and if you don't fix it you've got this huge expense, so, our staff have been really proactive in looking out for the leaking roofs.

 

On The "New Shiny Stuff" For The City

In the taxation bracket, what are you going to what are you going to buy and what are you going to pay for? First of all it's the normal inflation stuff, but the really good news is we focused on public safety, so we're hiring a new police officer. So, when you think, 'oh, that's not very much', a police officer costs about $144,000.

 

You have to think in terms of taxes. I've learned so much being on council and how we organize the money. If we want to raise $500,000, that's a one per cent tax increase. It's so incremental when you want to keep taxes low.

 

We hired a police officer, an exhibits custodian, a municipal worker to support them, that's over on the police side, two fire fighters so that we can have Sardis Hall staffed and that's a concern in the community. People have been saying. We need more fire fighters and we have 130 paid-on-call fire fighters right now. But its hard to get businesses to release people. There are people who are so generous in our community. But its really hard for volunteer fire fighters to show up all the time at every fire.

 

So we'll have two new fire fighters. We have a library and you guys know that's near and dear to my heart that's going to be going in at Twin Rinks and so the Twin Rinks library will finally be open.

 

On the New Sardis Library, Skate Park and Bicycle Park

That library is going to be fantastic. On the day that the doors open, it's fully paid for, which is something I really love too, with the direction of council is that we're "pay as you go". The only debt we ever have is on Prospera Centre right now and it doesn't really belong to us. That is the only debt we have in our town.

 

It's a complicated contract. That's all I can say. But everything else is fully paid for in our town including the (new) library and fully staffed as well. This is going to be a cool library with the latest technology. All kinds of things for kids.

 

They're taking the skate park out and they're moving it over to Webster Landing where nobody lives right now, so if you move-in there, you know you're by a skate park, so if you have young kids, that's an awesome opportunity for you. And if you don't like skateboarders, you might not want to live there.

 

We're also working with the regional district to put in an amazing bike park over on Island 22. You might even want to drive out there and take a look at what's happening.

 

One of the top designers of skate parks, Jay Hootz, has been working with the City and the Regional District and kids and bikers in our area to say 'let's come up with a really amazing bike park'. It will rival all the ones in BC, like, the big one up in Whistler, the ones in Merrit. It's going to be fun for kids to do that.

 

On Buses and Transit

We are changing the whole busing system. It's going to be fantastic. Right now in Chilliwack, and I say this with the greatest respect to our staff who work really hard trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

 

We have a partner. We have BC Transit. They have to agree on how many buses we're allowed to have. They have to agree on the level of service. The bus riders only pay 30 per cent of the fare. The rest is shared by the City and BC Transit.

 

We were able to get an extra bus. It sounds really lame when you live in Vancouver and with the little city of Chilliwack saying 'we got a bus', but what that bus does for us is really cool because we will be able to now provide service rather than every hour, so if you went out here and you caught the bus and you missed it, you're going to be here for another hour.

 

But I'm really excited to say that we're going to have a route that goes from Vedder Crossing right downtown every 20 minutes.

 

Our goal was to get university students to their campuses and we've worked really hard to be able to do that.

 

People have been asking us, especially seniors, 'how do I get to Walmart?', because right now the bus goes out to Stream and it stops there and then they have to walk 350 meters. For young bucks like ourselves, it's quite easy to do that, but for elderly people it's difficult.

 

So we will have a bus that goes that loop every hour. We'll have a loop up to Promontory every hour and through downtown and Fairfield Island every 30 minutes.

 

Our guys have been on the bus, our staff, they've been talking to all the people who ride the bus to get their ideas. They've had Open Houses and this is the direction that they are going.

 

On The Roads

We get lots of complaints about the state of the roads and we want to make sure we stay on top of that. That's a 'leaky roof' thing. We want to make sure that we don't have to pay extra to have to fix roads that with a little bit of work could last for a long time.

 

On The Chilliwack Chiefs Playoff Run

I believe in the Chiefs. My husband is a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. Whenever the Leafs are playing, he is ever-so-hopeful, he sits there and I watch him like a little kid crumple at the end of the game.

 

They haven't won the cup since 1967 and yet Jim believes and he's taught me a whole lot about trusting in your team, standing behind them, cheering them on, knowing the players, getting in there and getting behind them.

 

No matter what happens, honestly, it is about the game. It's fun to watch those guys. When I see guys like Josh Hanson out there on the ice, and realize that his mom taught my kids in school, I just feel really proud about that.

 

I'm not making predictions. They have to (take on Penticton) at some point during the playoffs. I know the Vees have been doing really really well and I wish them well. I'm happy to go deliver my box of corn. I'm just wishing them well and I'll be cheering them on all the way and we're just really proud of what they're doing and they're also building a fan base and I really want to encourage the people of Chilliwack to get out there and support them because their guys are in our community, they go into our schools, they inspire kids and it's good for our community.

 

We have our Life in the Wack Facebook site and I'm happy to talk with anyone.

 

Visit www.starfm.com for community news, events and the latest songs.

 

 

 

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