Friday, November 23, 2012

The Lake Country Momentum

Reflecting upon the past year serving the community, I have come to the realization that there is much on the go and much has been accomplished by our local government. A number of road improvements, for instance, have been completed, bringing with them a much higher sense of safety in the community. Lodge Road is an example and as I am writing this article, Lake Country staff members are working on an even safer path for pedestrians reaching from the Copper Hill subdivision down to Lodge, especially students that go to and from George Elliott Secondary. But I also think of the important improvements on Davidson Road, Camp Road, and Robinson Road to cite a few. Even the provincial work on the new Highway 97 section, which will be finished in the summer of 2013, is seen as a major improvement that will definitely benefit the community. Since I have moved to Lake Country, my family and I have been a bit reticent in driving along Wood Lake at night and even during the day on those gloomy cold days in the snow or rain – that section of the Highway is not safe and the new section is a great relief to all drivers.

The District is also actively working to solve many issues related to water service and quality. The major one is the water quality in Oyama. Finally it can be said that much improvement is being made through the Kalamalka Lake Interconnect project that will be completed in the spring of 2013. The improvements will be fully available at that time and the Oyama residents will be able to finally access good quality water, something they have not enjoyed probably for as long as they lived there. The major drive for this focus is the Water Master Plan, which has been in the works for three years now. The final version was presented to the Water Advisory Committee which unanimously recommended Council's approval. As I wrote many times before, the Plan provides a 20-Year infrastructure vision that comes with a cost, but a necessary one, and Council just approved the necessary increases over the next four years to get on with the Plan - $50 a year per residential property on the District's water system beginning in 2013 and ending in 2016. This was not an easy decision by Council but was supported by the findings in the Water Master Plan and even pushed a bit by some mandated requirements from Interior Health. But this is positive because water, after air, is the most precious commodity we have. For years we have lived ignoring the reality that water, like everything else, is not endless and that, as any other organic material, is subject to possible contamination. Lake Country is certainly leading the Valley in ensuring protection of this critical resource in terms of quality and conservation and other governments are looking at the District's Plan as an example of a progressive approach to deal with such an important issue.

Other things are also happening. I can think of the healthy reorganization the District went through this year. This has improved a number of processes and is going to also provide needed funds for important infrastructure projects, which are suffering from the lack of grants available from both the federal and provincial governments because of the economic times we are living. Staff have been praised a number of times for changing gears in dealing with "customers" and in processing applications. With the rare exception, the level of satisfaction from members of the public has exponentially increased.

The addition of an Economic Development Officer has also introduced an element of energetic marketing activity that is bringing much deserved attention from investors in diverse areas of the Country, and even from across the border. A big piece of land on Main Street has finally been sold to a developer and we are waiting to hear about another piece of land on the same street that has captured the interest of a number of investors with an ambitious vision for the Town Centre.

There is more but suffices to say that it seems to me that Lake Country is gaining momentum. And it will do more so once a sustainable plan for the whole community is initiated and completed. The District has received a grant for this and it is in the process of selecting a firm to guide the community through the process. This plan – which is formally called the Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (ICSP) – will be prepared with the purpose of creating a holistic community vision in the four pillars of quality living: economic, social, environmental, as well as land use and infrastructure. This plan is so critical that a number of other plans have been put on hold until the ICSP is completed and approved. Furthermore, the public and community stakeholders will be directly and extensively involved in the creation of the plan because this is theirs – or ours as I live here with my family.

So stay tuned and be ready to participate!


Friday, November 16, 2012

One Year with the New Council

The most recent local government election was held last year on the third Saturday of November – so pretty soon we will celebrate the new Council's one year in office. Four out of six councillors are new and three of them come from three wards. Our system is unique in British Columbia but it is reflective of the varied diversity that we enjoy in Lake Country. By the same token, though, our Community, Council and Staff are also proud of the fact that Lake Country is one community, one municipality where the sense of history, diversity, and cultural variety stemming from the four wards blend into what best represents life, the Okanagan way. I cannot imagine a better place to live, visit, and do business than Lake Country where three of the most beautiful lakes in the province and beautiful natural settings offer the opportunity for a quality in life that is the envy of many visitors.

Since incorporation, the various councils have worked hard to build this wonderful community and have done many good things that other municipalities only dream about. It is no different with this new Council. They have been working as hard to continue to provide the same – or even better – level of life enjoyment notwithstanding the challenges that we all face due to the continuous struggles in the global economy.

In previous articles, I have attempted to share many of the accomplishments that we were able to make just in the last year. You can certainly read those again on our state of the art community portal at and specifically under the "Blog" section. However, today I think that it would be better if I wrote about the future and specifically some of the things that will happen and come up in the next few months.

Budget deliberations start on Tuesday, November 20th. The first meeting will be held at Municipal Hall, in the Council Chambers, commencing at 3:30pm. The intent is to provide Council with an update on the current 2012 numbers and introduce plans for 2013 and beyond. Council has to approve a 5-Year Financial Plan under current provincial legislation; hence, the whole discussion cannot be isolated to the 2013 budget, although next year will be looked at in more detail than the following four years.

The new budget will benefit from some of the cuts that were applied to the District's operations last April and hopefully those cuts will assist increasing the amount of money that we need for capital projects such as roads, parks, and so on. And while, as I just said, the minimum requirement of the financial plan is to forecast for the next five years, Lake Country staff have been working over the last two years on 20-Year plans for managing our assets properly and wisely. The first piece of this planning exercise is the Water Master Plan, which will be finally adopted before the end of the year. The infrastructure component of the plan has been known for about two years now and calls for a $79 million price tag over the next twenty years – all this for clean, affordable water and the ability to foster proper conservation practices both at the institutional and family/individual levels. In order to accomplish all that, water fees – obviously only for those who are on District's water system – will need to be increased; and Council has agreed to a 5-Year increase beginning in 2012. District of Lake Country water customers' bill went up $49 this year and, according to the plan, should go up $50 per year in the next four years, from 2013 to 2016.

Other plans regarding the long-term Integrated Transportation Framework – which includes roads, trails and pedestrian connections –; and the long-term Liquid Waste Water Management Plan – which includes our sewage system – are close to completion and in 2013 we will have a clear picture of our infrastructure priorities.

Finally, in December and January, Council will make more specific decisions on the overall budget and specifically what projects will be approved and how much service will be provided to the community. In the first case, Staff is proposing to use most of the money saved through the District's reorganization for capital, infrastructure projects. In the case of services – in other words the daily operations of the community (maintenance of infrastructure, firefighting and fire prevention, bylaw enforcement, legal services, financial services, leisure programs, policing, the theater and more) – Staff will have to establish the impact of current contract increases, cost of living, slow growth and so on to see how much needs to be allocated to cover for those expenses. An example is that the current RCMP contract will cost an extra $120,000 in 2013 which is the equivalent of a 1.5% tax increase.

In December, the District will begin the process of creating an overall Economic Development Strategy. This has been a priority of Council and now that, through the recent reorganization, the District has an Economic Development Officer (EDO) we have the capacity to begin and complete this task. Our EDO is working with a number of stakeholders to ferret out the details of the strategy and come up with a plan, including priorities and actions. In addition, Council will also review its Strategic Priorities to see what is still relevant and what needs to be added. Much of it will have to deal with how resources can be properly allocated to exploit current capacity efficiently and effectively. In this past year, Council members were able to evaluate for themselves where some efforts need to be made and this may mean that some priorities might be shifted or new ones could be created.

Pretty soon, the new municipal website will be up and running. It will look much like our community portal (the The site will be easier on the eye, information easier to find, and browsing more user-friendly. I wish to thank the Corporate Services group that has been working very hard on this project for the last few months. We were told that our current website needed an overhaul and we have done it. I am convinced that the new one will offer a much better experience to both the skilled and the less skilled web navigator.

In conclusion, I wish to spend just a few words on an important piece of our Business Systems Review – which is the streamlining of land use applications, including processing and information gathering for development permits, building permits, and so on. Council approved many changes that have allowed for much faster application course. Soon, the Planning & Development group will be able to tell us how much time we are saving for the applicants and staff through the new process. However, the most important change is that we are seeing more appreciation for the service provided by staff. In the past, it was felt that the District had an issue with the quality of customer service. Whether that was a perception or reality, Staff have been working hard to change that. In order to monitor our efforts, the Planning & Development group has created a Customer Comment Card to monitor the level of satisfaction of their customers and receive important feedback for things that need improvement. Just a few days ago, a customer filled out the card and he was very complimentary of the two staff members providing assistance to him, and ranked our service as top notch. The card contains very nice comments and I believe it is a testimonial to our sincere efforts to do our best for the community as a whole and to those individuals we come in contact with every day at the counter.

So a big "Thank You" to staff for their selfless desire to be their best!