Leader hopefuls discuss City debt

All three mayoral candidates say while the municipality is in the red for $19.4 million, they have a plan to tackle it.

All three mayoral candidates — Walt Cobb, Scott Nelson, and Kerry Cook — say while the municipality is in the red for $19.4 million, they have a plan to tackle it.

As a mayor in the 1990s, Cobb says his philosophy was pay as you go.

From 1990 to 1996, the City borrowed only from the water and sewer fund.

“We tried to get rid of as much debt as we could and we budgeted for projects that we could raise money for in that particular year,” Cobb said.

However, he conceded that approach didn’t always work and there were times such as an emergency when borrowing was a necessity.

“Debt is not all bad. It’s the amount of debt that’s the problem.”

To be fiscally prepared, Cobb said the councils he worked with agreed to keep a certain number of dollars in the City’s reserve fund.

As for how much debt is acceptable, Cobb said the City needs to look at its ability to pay and the state of the local economy.

He added that if downloading from senior levels of government is creating a financial burden the City should re-evaluate whether to continue to provide those services. Paying for items like general infrastructure — water and sewer and roads — and policing are required services but Cobb classified any other items as “wishes.”

Cobb agreed that many of the capital projects the City has engaged in over the last few years were necessary; however, he questioned how they were done and suggested less expensive projects should have been considered or more money put aside in the City reserves to fund a portion of them.

Moving forward, Cobb is intent on balancing borrowing, spending and the City’s ability to pay in addition to cutting waste in the municipality.

“I’m sure there are lots of areas where we have to tighten our belt and we will tighten our belt for a few years to bring it into control,” he said.

Despite advocating for fiscal control, Cobb agreed the City needs to address its road infrastructure and plan for a new pool.

Return on investments is what Nelson says guided him when making spending decisions at the City as mayor from 2005 to 2008.  He holds up the Walmart development as an example of that philosophy. While Nelson agreed the South Lakeside/Hodgson Road realignment was completed for the development of the retail giant, he insists taking $1.3 million out of the City’s reserves to complete the project will pay dividends in the future in terms of generating tax revenue from the existing development and any future development as well as the employment benefit it brings.

“So I would look at that project and say when is that payback period going to come back to the municipality. I call that a good mortgage,” he said. “That’s good debt where we would get a significant payback to the community.”

Nelson added the fire hall project, which was approved through an alternative approval process, was necessary and says it was a good investment that will be in place for the next 35 to 40 years.  He added that at the time council gave direction for the portion of land unused by the fire hall facility and located on the other side of Hodgson Road to be developed and leased in order to offset the facility’s capital and operational costs.

Other projects undertaken during his term, like upgrades to the river valley storm sewers to manage the City’s runoff, were necessary to meet environmental and Department of Fisheries and Oceans standards, he said. Without a partnership with other levels of government, the City wouldn’t have been able to afford it.

“It was one of those returns on investment for the community that would be worth that much more many years down the road. It saved millions on the front end but the long-term legacy in terms of cleaner run-off water and being better for the environment is huge.”

Nelson said he’s heartened by B.C. Assessment numbers that indicate Williams Lake’s overall assessment has increased from $800 million in 2000 to $1.2 billion this year.

“It’s probably one of the most significant positive indicators for any investor. If you’re going to invest in any community and they flat line and there’s no activity, it’s stale and assessment value is the same,  that means there is no growth. Our community has seen significant, rapid positive growth decade after decade which is huge,” he said.

Nelson conceded that a situation of too much debt could arise when interest and expenses exceed revenue.

“Then you’ve got problems. We’re far from being at that point.”

A solid financial plan is what the City needs when facing the City’s current fiscal situation, according to Cook, the current mayor.

“When we look at the big picture we are $19 million in debt, $12 million was approved by the last council and we are currently paying close to $2 million in debt and interest payments and we have a lot of projects that are coming our way in the future,” she said. “So how do we deal with this?”

Cook proposes to create a long-term capital infrastructure plan to prioritize areas of spending in the future, take advantage of infrastructure grants offered by senior levels of government when possible, increase City revenue through economic growth, implement cost-saving measures and reduce spending at the City in order to manage the municipality’s current debt load.

“We need to take a look at all our long-term plans. We need to set big picture targets of where we want to be. Once you have those priorities then those should dictate your spending,” Cook said.

She suggests the task of prioritizing capital projects could resemble council’s efforts to identify and rank paving projects as has been done with the pavement management plan. That plan, said Cook, includes the setting aside of money on an annual basis to fund paving: $200,000 in 2011 and $300,000 in 2012.

Cook says she thinks accruing a “certain amount” of debt is part of life.

“But when we incur $12 million on projects that yes, they needed to be done, but it’s how we do it.  We need to make sure we are capturing the partnerships; that we’re going after the funding opportunities. We can’t do any of those pieces in isolation; we need to look at the big picture.”

Cook added she wouldn’t turn down a “key” project if the right partnership came along for fear of incurring further debt and noted that a capital projects management plan could help the community to prioritize its needs.

“We need to ensure that every capital project that we’re doing is in the best interest of the whole community.”

Cook points to the Mackenzie Avenue reconstruction as an example of partnerships through grants that enabled the City to get more than $10 million dollars of paving for its output of $3.5 million.

For related City debt story, see page A1.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(File photo)
High-visibility arrest in Williams Lake nets BB gun, mistaken for assault rifle

RCMP thought the man was carrying an M16 assault-style rifle

LETTER: Improvements needed at Scout Island

The City can do better managing their responsibilities

More than 14,800 COVID-19 vaccines have been administered at clinics in Williams Lake, Alexis Creek, Big Lake, Horsefly, West Chilcotin, 100 Mile House and Clinton as of Friday, May 7. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
6,000-plus people vaccinated for COVID-19 in Williams Lake, and in 100 Mile House

Interior Health Authority provide the numbers up to May 7, 2021

As a former reporter and editor at the Tribune, Diana French carries on sharing her ideas through her weekly column. (Photo submitted)
FRENCH CONNECTION: Reasonable decision making can go a long way

We’re all at fault, but today I’ll pick on politicians

Lorne Doerkson is the Liberal MLA for the Cariboo-Chilcotin. (Black Press Media file photos)
MLA’s CORNER: Be thankful for volunteers

It amazes me just how much people do to make the Cariboo Chilcotin region a better place for all

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds are in the Comox Valley for their annual spring training. Photo by Erin Haluschak
Suspected bird strike on Snowbirds plane during training in B.C.

Pilot followed protocols and landed the aircraft on the ground without any problems

BCIT. (Wikimedia Commons)
BCIT apologizes after employee’s ‘offensive and hurtful’ email leaked to Métis Nation

BCIT says employee’s conduct has been investigated and addressed

An adult male yellow-breasted chat is shown in this undatd photograph on lands protected in collaboration between the En’owkin Centre and Penticton Indian Band with support through ECCC. The rescue from near extinction for a little yellow bird hinges on the wild rose in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, a researcher says. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, A. Michael Bezener/ En’owkin Centre 2020 *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Rare yellow birds need wild roses to survive in British Columbia: researcher

The importance of local wild roses emerged over a nearly 20-year experiment

RCMP officers search around rows of luggage carts as screens block off an area of the sidewalk after a shooting outside the international departures terminal at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Police say gang conflict in Metro Vancouver may be behind shooting death at airport

Police said this generation of gangsters is taking things to new level and have no regard for community safety

RCMP are looking for information on an alleged shooting attempt near an elementary school in Smithers March 10. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News/Stock)
UPDATE: Man killed in brazen daylight shooting at Vancouver airport

Details about the police incident are still unknown

Pieces of nephrite jade are shown at a mine site in northwestern B.C. in July 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Tahltan Central Government MANDATORY CREDIT
Indigenous nation opposes jade mining in northwestern B.C.

B.C.’s Mines Act requires operators to prepare a plan to protect cultural heritage resources

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman’s body found in Kootenay National Park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

Most Read