After six years in office as mayor of Creston, Ron Toyota said that he is as enthusiastic about the job as ever, and that his understanding of interactions between the town and senior levels of government helps reap benefits.
“I was born and raised here in Creston and I have always had a connection with the business community,” he said. “This is my community. I love my community and it’s not just the town of Creston that I have a passion for — it’s the entire Creston Valley. One can’t survive without the other.”
Toyota resides in Sanca on Kootenay Lake, but he is also a Creston voter as owner of property in town.
“The enjoyment in the last six years has been in seeing things actually happen.”
Among the changes, he cites the opening of the aquatic centre and revitalized Creston and District Community Complex (he served as a member of the citizens’ volunteer design team), construction of the Ramada hotel and convention centre, upgrades to the waste water treatment plant, improved relations with the Lower Kootenay Band, youth initiatives, repaving of Erickson Street, community trails and parks projects, and even the transition in policing costs.
“Going over 5,000 in population proved that we weren’t stuck,” he said of Creston being required to pay higher policing costs when it hit the population threshold.
“The biggest adjustment in going from business to public service is not being your own boss anymore,” he said. “You have to learn to work within the system, which is increasingly challenging with the downloading of responsibilities — but not the funding — in areas like environment and safety.”
If there is a particular challenge that comes with the mayor’s job, he said, it is trying to ensure that the public has the necessary facts and information about what is happening in the community.
“It’s amazing how much rumour and information floats around, distorting citizens’ perceptions about what the Town of Creston and town council is doing,” he said.
To help keep the lines of communication open, he has an open door policy in his town hall office, and is there three days a week — at least.
“There aren’t many days that I am not in town, though, between my office duties and the meetings and public events that I attend.”
He has also instituted a regularly scheduled series of “coffee talks”, which the public is invited to attend and ask questions not only of Toyota, but other local officials, including representatives from the RCMP and the fire department.
“Those meetings have proven to be valuable, “ he said. “We get to hear directly from people who have concerns or interests, and in turn those people get to hear directly from us.”
He said he is particularly pleased to have been part of moving toward a valley-wide fire service. The expansion of areas that now have fire protection, the team approach being taken by Creston Fire Rescue and the Canyon-Lister and Wynndel-Lakeview fire departments, and a well-defined automatic aid agreement have benefited the Creston Valley, he said.
“It is a sensible approach to take, especially with the growing challenge of keeping a sufficient number of qualified volunteer firefighters involved. The fire chiefs, firefighters and administration of both the Town of Creston and the RDCK (Regional District of Central Kootenay) have been very innovative and proactive.”
A giant step forward in modern technology is also reason to celebrate, he said.
“We were fortunate to be one of the early small communities selected get the Telus fibre optic network, and this will improve business and professional opportunities in our area, providing a service that is better than many city residents have right now.”
Toyota said that in his six years as mayor, the town has worked to improve communication with residents and to invite input. This was reflected in last November’s citizen satisfaction survey.
“We have to take as many approaches as possibly learn how people feel about our community and the services we are providing. We aren’t perfect, but the survey results were very positive,” he said.
A mayor and council have to understand their roles and responsibilities, he said.
“You have to learn to respect and work within the system. How do you make it work to benefit our community? That’s the excitement of this position — it’s a real pleasure working with other elected representatives and town employees.
“Town council’s primary focus has to be providing a good, sound infrastructure — good quality water, waste water treatment, a solid fire department and so on. But we also need to make the best of the opportunities we have in the Creston Valley, such as pursuing our food and agriculture potential.”