By Councillor Karen Unruh, Town of Creston
2020 began as a new year and new decade full of promise and positivity. Now, as we mark an entire year since the start of the global pandemic, there is no doubt that our lives have been forever changed. Although I am sure that we have all experienced many negative emotions over this past year, such as sadness, loss and uncertainty, I have also witnessed some real positivity.
I have seen people come together to support not just their neighbours and friends, but also our larger community. A year ago, my husband and I came home early from a vacation in Mexico and proceeded directly to self-isolation for two weeks. We were so fortunate to have the support of not only our friends and neighbours who brought us groceries, but also from our local businesses who made significant changes to accommodate those assisting us such as curbside pick-up. Although we were alone in isolation, we were never lonely thanks to this community.
A valuable lesson learned during the past year is the importance of connection on all levels – to each other as family, friends, coworkers and community – and connection in new and innovative ways. Prior to the pandemic, we had in-person council meetings at least three times a month, not to mention the numerous other committee meetings that were held at town hall or throughout the region. After the initial couple of weeks, we resumed meetings, but they were completely virtually on the WebEx platform. I have to say that although I much prefer meeting in person, we have all come a long way in our abilities to navigate the different virtual platforms!
Under the current Ministerial Order M192, as council, we are able to meet in person, but are not allowed to have members of the public present in the gallery. Thanks to technology though, we are still able to provide the opportunity for citizens to participate and continue to fulfill our mandate as your council. We do miss seeing your faces in person and look forward to when we can do so again!
In the fall of 2020, all municipalities in British Columbia received funding from the provincial government to assist with revenue shortfalls and expenses incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Town of Creston’s portion was $1.6 million. As a council, we made the decision to allocate $500,000 of these funds towards capital costs that have increased over the past year. The remainder of the money will be held in surplus to cover future costs, as it is clear that it will be some time until things settle down. Our understanding is that the funding received from the province is a one-time allocation.
As a local government, we understand how particularly difficult this past year has been on our local businesses. Every business had to make changes to their business operations in order to not only ensure compliance with provincial health orders and direction but also to protect their employees and our community. Business spaces were changed to accommodate physical distancing and traffic flow, physical capacity was reduced, and contactless options provided to obtain goods through curbside pick-up and delivery. Several local businesses developed and increased their online presence. These changes were made swiftly and seamlessly; I am so proud of the resilience shown by our amazing business community!
One way that council was able to support our local businesses was by launching the Community Health Initiative Program (CHIP) in December 2020. CHIP was designed to assist Creston-based businesses in complying with the provincial health orders and regulations by offsetting some of the additional costs that are borne by our businesses as a result of the pandemic. Participating businesses receive a 100 per cent discounted business license as well as a one-time donation of signage, disposable masks and hand sanitizer. CHIP was launched prior to the Order from the Ministry of Solicitor General, which mandated the wearing of masks in all indoor public spaces. The cost of this program is approximately $45,000 for the year and funded by the COVID-19 relief funding provided by the province.
As usual, we also have ongoing projects and new ones this year including sidewalk replacement, road restoration (Hurl Street, 16th Avenue to 19th Avenue), Creston Education Centre infrastructure replacement, and CP rail crossing upgrades. A project that I am especially enthusiastic about is the start of construction on the new Creston Emergency Services Building. Kelowna’s Chandos Construction Ltd., who will be overseeing the building of the facility, is completing the construction management of this project. We are hopeful that the team begins to break ground and get started with construction in the spring of this year, with completion of the facility planned for August 2022. Another exciting project is the long-awaited enhanced curbside collection of recycling which is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2021, upon the completion of the RDCK organics collection facility. There are many exciting changes happening in 2021!
One of the more positive outcomes of the pandemic has been the recognition from other levels of government that people need more ways and more spaces to enjoy the outdoors. There are a number of grant opportunities for local governments to apply for that would assist in creating or transforming local public spaces in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as developing trails that are accessible year-round.
The town continues to apply for those grant funding opportunities to enhance our trails and public spaces. Encouraging economic growth within our community is another council priority that we continue to work on. The continuation of our Revitalization Tax Exemption program, with plans to rebrand it to increase public awareness, is in progress. Overall, we are keeping busy, working together towards a brighter future for the Town of Creston.
Writing this article is bittersweet for me. This last year has been challenging for my family health-wise, and we have made the difficult decision to leave the Creston Valley to be closer to our children and grandchildren. It has truly been my pleasure to have met so many wonderful people and to have been a part of the many positive changes that have occurred in the Town of Creston over my past six and a half years on town council. Creston will always be a large part of my heart, and I cannot wait to see what comes next for this town!