As we have just passed the halfway mark in this four-year term, I have taken time to reflect on the last year.
This past year has brought some changes to our staffing and operations in the city. Milo Macdonald has been appointed Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Williams Lake, moving on from his former role as Inspector of the Williams Lake RCMP detachment. Since that time, we have undertaken the process of recruiting a chief financial officer, with interviews underway.
After some organizational changes, council continues to focus on the city’s finances. In our ongoing focus on accountable, transparent governance, we have taken a critical look at the budget and have made significant steps to reduce costs wherever feasible.
We were able to maintain a zero tax increase for the past two years and ensure monies were being spent for the projects and operations they were budgeted for. This has also been achieved without increasing our debt.
We have been able to reduce our total debt by almost $1 million and continue to focus on increasing the city’s reserve accounts. We will be somewhat delayed in finalizing the budget for this year due to staffing changes in the finance department.
Our capital plan and roadwork upgrades are on track, despite the challenges of a static economy. Pavement upgrades are ongoing, with the focus on maintaining existing roads. One of the larger projects undertaken was the River Valley sewer line twinning, worth over $4 million, with assistance from infrastructure grants. The storm sewer line replacement at the landfill and upgrades to our water system controls were completed. Most of the parking lots downtown now have lighting for safety.
The River Valley trail system has once again been deferred until completion of the negotiations with BC Rail for the properties.
New construction continues, including the new fire centre at the airport as well as two new hangars. Grosso Precast has had an addition to their premises as well as the new Freightliner building in the industrial park. The completion of the Kids Care Daycare was a great addition to our community, and the former Kwaleen School is in the process of upgrades for a community centre. The pool upgrade is on schedule, and it has been exciting to see the progress underway.
The good news continues with Interior Health’s announcement of 70 care beds for Williams Lake, which will bring additional services and employment to our area. Construction of the new Mr. Mike’s restaurant is underway, and new owners of the former Lake City Ford building are discussing redevelopment. The burned down portion of the old Slumber Lodge is also being considered for redevelopment.
We anticipate that the Toop Road reconstruction and intersection work will be undertaken this year. Work on the greenhouse project is ongoing, along with discussion of developing a flight school here in Williams Lake.
We have been continuing to investigate viable options for the wood fiber that is being burned and left in the bush.
The RCMP has been successful on a number of fronts with our crime rate and gang problem and we have fallen from the highest crime ranking down to number seven. Thanks to those on the front line that are dealing with the issues and keeping us safe.
The Chinese delegation and tour was a great success and we have made some good contacts for economic opportunities; it has been requested that we participate in a trade mission in May. We were also honoured to host the Chinese Martial Arts troupe. The Elders Gathering was also a huge success and brought many new faces to our region, and with both of those events we promoted our heritage with two more Stampede events. Of course we had our annual events and a record number of attendees at the Stampede.
I would like to thank the Chamber, the BIA, Community Futures and the Economic Development Corporation for organizing the Business Walk. I know it has been discussed by the Chamber for a couple of years and the feedback I have received has been positive.
The results of the surveys will allow us to address any concerns and continue to support our local businesses.
We are looking forward to a productive year ahead.
Walt Cobb is the Mayor of Williams Lake and gave this address at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon Thursday.