Creston Mayor Ron Toyota was the guest presenter at a Creston Valley Chamber of Commerce networking breakfast on Jan. 9, speaking briefly about highlights of the town’s year.
On Northwest Boulevard, Mountain View Inn converted a motel into 12 affordable housing units, Centex opened a gas bar and convenience store serving local coffee and baking, and Kemlee Equipment opened a new Kubota dealership.
As mayor, Toyota participated in numerous events, such as the Creston Valley Blossom Festival and Santa Claus parades, as well as a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Awareness Walk with Lower Kootenay Band Chief Jason Louie.
During his 11th year (November 2018-October 2019) as mayor, Toyota logged 1,621 hours, an average of 135 a month.
Following his report, Toyota fielded questions from the audience in the Erickson Room at the Creston and District Community Complex. Following are some of his responses to audience questions:
•“We are looking at and we are gaining traction on different grants that are coming available,” said Toyota, when asked about grants to offset taxation to build the fire hall approved in a 2018 referendum.
The grants tend to fall in the $100,000-$200,000, and Infrastructure Canada’s Federal Gas Tax Fund, originally used for infrastructure and later expanded to recreations facilities, hasn’t “quite got to fire halls.”
Calling it simply a “fire hall” isn’t quite accurate, though.
“We’ve expanded beyond ‘put out the fire,’ ” he said.
Not only will the building be a base for the BC Ambulance Service, but it will also include dormitories for firefighters in the work experience program.
In a followup interview with the Advance on Jan 10, Toyota added that the town has signed the agreement to purchase the land adjacent to Pealow’s — Your Independent Grocer from Loblaw’s, and is now waiting for the grocery company to reciprocate.
The project is, however, expected to break ground in the spring, and produce a facility that will serve the community for up to 100 years.
“We’re farther ahead than people think we are because we’ve pre-qualified who can build it,” he said. “That’s going to be a big plus.”
•When an audience member asked if the town would be working more closely with the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK), Toyota explained that Creston is a municipality that is part of the RDCK, and that they’ve already worked well, particularly on the rec centre project.
“I think the biggest success that we should be very proud if is this facility here. … This thing tagged out at $24 million and I think it’s worth every penny,” he said.
•With the Creston Valley Youth Network now using the former School District No. 8 (Kootenay Lake) building at the corner of 16th Avenue and Canyon Street, Toyota was asked about plans for the Cook Street realignment project.
“We were very close in moving it forward,” replied Toyota. “Then we had a change of government and their priorities changed.”
The realignment of the Railway Boulevard and Pine Street intersection at the grain elevators was Phase 1 of the project, and Toyota is still pushing for Phase 2, diverting highway traffic from Canyon Street to Cook Street, to happen.
“I would like to think in five-plus years, we will see the realignment done. … The youth centre was done on the basis that it would be temporary.”
•A farm owner asked Toyota his thoughts on the situation between the public and seasonal workers, which resulted in a protest downtown in August.
With most of the seasonal workers picking fruit on farms outside town boundaries, “our role would definitely be as a participant within the regional district,” Toyota responded.
He cautioned, though, that the town’s role is to oversee infrastructure, and that government programs from higher up should handle social issues, such as homelessness and affordable housing, rather than downloading.
“When you start, as a municipality, delving into it… you’re taking something other powers should be dealing with,” he said. “I’m concerned but you have to work with what’s out there, and work it so it’s not coming out of one’s property tax.”
When asked if lobbying the provincial government might help, Toyota wasn’t so sure.
“I don’t think we get representation in the Creston Valley,” he said.
•A Municipal and Regional District Tax Program (MRDT) will be put in place for Creston Valley short-term accommodations, such as hotels, Toyota said when asked about economic development funding.
“We’re one of that last areas in British Columbia that doesn’t have that program,” he said. “It would bring in over $100,000, and it has to be specifically for marketing whatever we have in our valley. … That’s exciting, but it’s going to be a year to two years before we see that happening.”
•With notices from BC Assessment having just arrived in the mail, one audience member was concerned because his assessment went up 25 per cent, and was concerned about how his property taxes would increase.
“BC Assessment has nothing to do with us as a municipality,” said Toyota. “BC Assessment sets the value of your property based on what you have on it.”
However, the blow may be softened a little for homeowners with significant assessment increases, because with garbage pickup now added to water and sewer bills, taxes will actually be decreasing by 0.6 per cent.
•”We won’t change,” Toyota said when asked about the provincial government’s plan to have the whole province stay on permanent daylight time.
The question remains, though, whether the East Kootenay, which is on mountain time, rather than Pacific as the majority of the province is, would choose to participate.
“There’s always going to be discussion and disagreement as to which is better,” he said.