Throughout May, the beginning stages of construction on the future Creston Emergency Services Building (CESB) has been underway.
The project has been a contentious issue for many years, with initial discussions on the need for an updated fire hall dating back to 2012. Some residents continue to express concerns about the estimated costs of $8.2-million and the impact it could have on the town in the coming years.
In response, Mayor Ron Toyota has answered some of the common questions from the community.
Can you assure that our taxes won’t increase due to the CESB?
In a letter sent out to the public at the end of April, the document stated that “there will be no increase to taxes.”
Toyota said that he can’t make any guarantees, as unpredictable factors might come into play.
As an example, he spoke about the 2012 census issued by the government of Canada that revealed that the town’s population had risen above 5,000 people.
It triggered a change in policing costs from a provincial to municipal model that resulted in a sudden increase of 34 per cent in property taxation, which was phased in over five years.
“To the best of my knowledge, with all of the research that’s been done, the meetings, and the years we’ve been spending on it, I’m comfortable that the proposal put forward on the CESB is what will come to fruition,” he said. “This is just one project I’ve worked on during my 14 years in office. I’m very confident that I’ll be proud of this fire hall a year from now.”
Can the public see a breakdown of the construction costs?
Chief Administrative Officer Michael Moore offered an explanation for not making all of the costs public.
“If you’re providing your exact budget on certain things, then you’re telling contractors exactly what they could bid,” he said. “The estimates we have from the cost breakdowns are not commonly made available prior to a project being contracted out.”
Many different tenders are made available for bidding for everything from earthworks to building to landscaping.
“If we broke down every one of those divisions and showed how it added up to $7 million from professional estimators, it would take the competitiveness out of the bids,” said Moore. “We want the contractors to bid based on the level of work they know is required. That’s how we achieve savings in a competitive market.”
The total budget for construction is $7 million, and Moore said they are on target to come in below costs.
“We allow enough contingency for things that we can’t anticipate, especially in the pandemic world,” he said. “It’s very possible to come in under budget and that’s what we’re striving for.”
Why aren’t the town council meetings recorded?
During the pandemic, the regularly scheduled meetings have been held over a virtual streaming service called Webex so that viewers are able to join and watch remotely.
However, the videos are only available live and recordings can’t be watched later.
Toyota said that it doesn’t make sense for a town the size of Creston to incur the costs of a sophisticated video system.
“Realistically, it’s not feasible,” he said. “When we have an open galley, anyone can join but we usually only see two to three people.”
Moore added that it isn’t as simple as just recording video and uploading it.
“Some people think we could use a service like Facebook Live because it’s free. But in B.C., we have a very stringent Freedom of Information Act that states our data needs to stay on Canadian servers and not be transmitted across other lines,” said Moore. “There are companies that provide that service and guarantee that the data is stored in Canada. Unfortunately, it comes at high costs, upwards of $20,000 a year.”
Currently, town council is choosing not to pursue the service.
Why are some decisions made behind closed doors?
According to Moore, there’s legislation in place on what remains in closed meetings and why.
“There’s a whole list on the Community Charter of what has to remain in closed meetings, with some obvious things like labour discussions, contract negotiations and pricing, or legal matters, especially when a lawyer is involved,” he said.
He added that when a decision takes place in an in-camera meeting, it is then brought to a public meeting.
“The argument has been made that if we’re making a simple decision in-camera, why wasn’t it made public? There’s a lot of pieces that go into these conversations that could influence or impact negotiations. The only thing that is absent in some cases is the back and forth on some legal issues, which is privileged information.”
This fall, a by-election will be held to fill the positions of two councillors who recently resigned. In October 2022, the regular election will be held for the mayor and all councillor positions.
Toyota encourages residents to use the upcoming election as an opportunity to voice their concerns.
“At election, people can choose who they want as representatives,” he said. “If this blows up and goes totally sideways, then the next election I won’t be there.”