As the municipal election approaches, hot topics including City spending and bike lanes continue to be at the forefront of discussion.
Mayoral candidate Chad Mason, 26, said the City’s debt is an issue he has been hearing about while on the campaign trail.
“It is a useful tool. You get to buy it now and pay for it later, but we’ve built a new civic yards, upgraded the wastewater plant, built a new bus terminal – I think people understand we’ve spent the money, so now we have to pay down the debt,” said Mason. “You have to get money somehow, you have to cut back somehow. I think we should try and expand capital expenditures and cut back on pet projects.”
Right now, the City’s debt is at about $200 million and by the end of the year it’s projected to be at about $240 million.
He added he understands there are “hard expenditures” the City needs, but there is also room to make cuts as well.
“The plowing of roads, the treating of water and the RCMP – those are hard expenditures. But if we can save money in soft services like human resources or the accounting department or anywhere where the money doesn’t hit the front – we can look for savings there. You have to cut somewhere.”
Councillor Cindy Jefferies, who is also running for the mayor’s seat, said especially with the civic yards project, there is a larger context as to why it was approved.
“We had to replace the transit barns and there was a lot of work to be done on the public works facility, plus all of those departments were sitting on very valuable land in the downtown core. Whether we built the new civic yards or not, there would have had to be a substantial investment regardless.”
Jefferies said she has also heard that the architecture of the new civic yards is extravagant. “The architectural features didn’t cost substantially more than if we had built a rectangular shed. There is more to those buildings than people see – we are leading by example,” she said. “And what some may not realize is that we have many City staff that work there every single day and if you have a space that is functional, you work well and productivity is better.”
Bike lanes are also on electors’ minds as Mason and Jefferies have both heard from the public on that issue.
“I’ve been hearing from other people too that the City should ease back from the statues and the bike lanes and other pet projects,” said Mason. “I think the bike lanes especially. I understand cyclists want to use the road. I have talked to cyclists in the community and some acknowledge it obstructs traffic and that this is an attempt to make bike lanes exempt from the laws of the road. Technically bikes are vehicles too. If you don’t want to obey regular traffic laws then you shouldn’t be on the road.”
Jefferies said she understands that there are many who are not happy with the bike lanes.
“If we could start the pilot project again we would probably make changes. We have learned a significant amount and we probably don’t have it right yet,” she said. “But our motive (in approving the pilot project) was to try and make a shift to other modes of transportation. Even if we have a one per cent shift that would save us millions of dollars in infrastructure and maintenance costs over the long run.
“We are not only trying to encourage active transportation but we are also trying to build in a sustainable way. We want to make that a viable option.”