Bill Hutchinson is a familiar face around Creston, where he walks the streets with a doggy bag in hand and dog at his side, taking note of details that catch his engineer’s eye.
“I don’t always like what I see,” he said. “My wife told me, ‘You won’t let go — why don’t you just run?’ ”
Hutchinson retired as Creston’s chief administrative officer in 2006 after more than a quarter-century in the town’s employ. He first came to Creston in 1979 on a visit from North Ontario, where he was an engineer with a consulting firm.
“I worked for Stanley Engineering and travelled all over northern B.C. for them,” he said.
In 1980, the works superintendent position in Creston was advertised and he jumped at the opportunity to relocate and live in the same community as his brother.
Elidio Salvador was mayor at the time and it was Lela Irvine who hired him into the CAO’s position.
“Lela and I had an understanding — you do your job and I’ll look after mine,” he said. “When she lost her last election the community lost a great individual. …
“I worked for four mayors (Don Leben and Joe Snopek, too) and they were all good experiences.”
When Hutchinson looks at the list of candidates for mayor and council he sees a couple of areas that concern him.
“I think it is notable that some people who are running aren’t taxpayers here,” he said. “Living in town, I feel the impact of decisions at tax time. I appreciate the difficulty that some seniors have in paying their taxes and bills.”
It also concerns him that some candidates might not even have attended a council meeting. He suggests that all candidates should be required to take a pre-election course to qualify their nomination. It was an issue to Irvine, too, who took the proposal to the Union of BC Municipalities, where it failed to gain support.
“As CAO I ran my own course for newly elected councillors,” he said.
Hutchinson has attended council meetings over the years, often representing local developers, and he worries that fiscal oversight isn’t always evident.
“Financial responsibility is where I see council lacking.”
He points out the recent addition of parks and amenities that are often spearheaded by service clubs, leaving the town with the responsibility to maintain them, which over the long term is more costly than their construction.
“When I was administrator it was my job to point out that it’s nice to have facilities but they have to be maintained after they’re built.”
The recently opened dog park is an example of questionable decision-making, he said.
“I walk my dog around town every day and there has never been a shortage of places to walk. Was there really a need for the town to provide a place?”
He objects to Mayor Ron Toyota’s trip to Creston’s sister city of Kaminoho, Japan, last year as part of an economic development trip to Asia.
“Our relationship with Kaminoho was never intended to send people over with tax money. It was a huge waste and as mayor I’ll see it won’t happen again.”
Travel to national conferences is an unnecessary expense, too, he said.
“Last year, seven people from the town went to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Lela and I went to one in Calgary and we found it interesting, but not really valuable for small municipalities. I question the need, and the cost must be tremendous. This year, two town councillors who went to Niagara Falls aren’t even running again.”
As he walks through the downtown core and sees empty storefronts, Hutchinson says he is thinking about how other communities dealt with similar problems.
“Victoria did it,” he said. “They had a downtown area that was in bad shape.”
For five years, no taxes were collected from property owners, allowing them to fix up buildings and then offer low rents.
“It was very successful and now it is a key part of their downtown, a very nice area to walk through.”
A five-year tax break for the Ramada hotel and conference centre, though, strikes him as “very generous.”
“It sends the wrong message to people who own businesses — it’s unfair to existing business.”
And a downtown revitalization program that redesigned the Cook Street parking lot still rankles him.
“We lost 27 parking spots to revitalization,” he said. “It wasn’t necessary.”
Not all of his observations are negative, though. As a cancer survivor in the last year, he appreciates the work done to recruit physicians.
“We have to sustain our number of docs and do what we can to keep them.”
Although he was invited to be part of the Action Creston slate, Hutchinson opted out.
“I am glad for their interest in me, but the taxpayers will decide. I will work with anyone. I am my own man.”
He also refuses campaign donations from developers, he said.