The Village of Ashcroft held its only regular meeting of the month on Monday, Sept. 9 at 4:30 p.m. in council chambers.
Mayor Barbara Roden and all Village councillors were present, with the exception of Coun. Jonah Anstett, who was also missing from July and August’s meetings. Coun. Marilyn Anderson arrived towards the end of the regular meeting and offered her apologies to staff and the gallery.
Yogi Bhalla, chief financial officer, and Daniela Dyck, deputy corporate officer, were also in attendance. Ashcroft’s new CAO, Anne Yanciw, was present for her first official meeting with the Village. Before opening the evening’s agenda, Mayor Roden formally welcomed Yanciw to the community.
Five members of the public were present in the gallery as council adopted the Committee of the Whole and regular meeting minutes from Aug. 26. Afterwards, no delegations were presented during Monday’s meeting and the night’s most lively discussion took place during the evening’s closing question period.
Firstly, council responded to correspondence from the Rotary Club of Ashcroft/Cache-Creek, granting a request for use of the Ashcroft Community Hall, Heritage Park, and the facilities included therein for the upcoming Japanese Canadian Mosaics Unveiling Celebration on Saturday, Oct. 5. Additionally, the Village granted free use of the community bus for this event request, along with arena chairs and access to the sound system.
Council received and filed information from the HUB Online Network, a collaborative online channel that produces a variety of video broadcasts within the Nlakapamux and Secwepemc nations and the Villages of Ashcroft and Cache Creek. Roden called the network a great new service and said lots of people are already watching the videos online.
Next, council moved on to adopt the Audio and Video Recording of Council Meetings Policy with two amendments set forth. The first was a clarification from Roden, creating an allowance for legitimate media publications to apply to record regular council meetings, rather than restricting those applications to trained journalists only.
The second amendment was suggested by CAO Yanciw to strike item 1.1 from the policy to ensure that applicants need only apply once annually for permission to record council meetings rather than apply consecutively at each meeting.
The Village was recently successful in obtaining grant funding from the Northern Development Initiative Trust (NDIT) to complete a new Economic Development and Tourism Strategy. During Monday’s meeting, council voted to enter into a contract for the completion of that strategy with EDCD Consulting.
Mayor Roden congratulated staff on receiving the grant and noted that the community’s mosaics are a great example of a tourist draw that the proposed Economic Development and Tourism Strategy might capitalize on.
“We’ve seen an increase in industry and housing and now tourism and economic growth,” said Coun. Davenport. “I’m thinking we’re going to be in a really good position in the next few years.”
Council also received and filed information indicating that work has started on the CN Railway Whistle Cessation project.
Only two items were presented for reconsideration and final adoption at the meeting and both bylaws were adopted without opposition or discussion. Those items were the Dog Control and Pound Operation Bylaw No. 832 and the Consolidated Fees and Charges Bylaw No. 833.
During the evening’s mandatory reports, Coun. Tuohey expressed her intention to move forward with fixing up the display inside the old community Fire Hall, which Roden said would be a good project now that the exterior looks nice.
Roden also provided an update for the board of Historic Hat Creek, noting that the two proposals put in for the recent RFP—from the Friends of Hat Creek Ranch and from the Bonaparte Indian Band—were both unsuccessful. Thus, a final decision still has not been made. Roden advised that there will be another special board meeting that will include ministry officials, but local municipal representatives won’t be there, as the meeting is scheduled during the upcoming UBCM.
There was one addition to the night’s agenda from CAO Yanciw, requesting support from council to take an upcoming Municipal Administration Training Institute (MATI) course called The Successful CAO in Nov. 2019. The request to apply for UBCM scholarship funding to attend the course was approved by council.
“With the courses available we should be taking advantage of them for staff,” said Mayor Roden.
CFO Bhalla ended Monday’s meeting with a financial presentation before staff opened the gallery for questions. Yanciw advised that the presentation should be the last one given via projector, as new television equipment will soon be available in the Village office.
“I like regularly giving these updates to council just to show where we are,” began Bhalla before proceeding with a review of the community’s finances, including the year’s highlights so far and a proposed strategy for the future.
Bhalla turns over financial reports on a monthly basis to keep track of the community’s economic standing. Currently, he said there are no areas of concerns and Ashcroft is in good shape at this point.
“We are well on budget,” he said, adding that there has been lots of money coming in and out this year. “That’s why I have to keep a close eye on the balancing.”
Most notably, Bhalla expressed his pleasure with the Village’s Water Treatment Plant project and noted that he intends to pay off two significant loans in the community by tapping into Village reserves.
“I’d like to clear out all our debt, including the fire truck loan and the water treatment plant loan,” he said. “The Village’s projects are on track and under budget despite scope increases.” Some of the scope changes to the Water Treatment Plant Project included adding washrooms and increasing solar rate, which will reduce the Village’s energy bill in the long run.
“This is kind of the new strategy now that we’re getting closer to the end of the project,” he said, noting that staff will discuss the financial plans further as the large project finishes up, but he is confident that the community can use some of its gas tax reserves to pay off the plant, for example, since water treatment fits into those reserve guidelines.
“There have been lots of decisions along the way and lots of conversations between staff and council and some of these decisions are really showing in the success of the project,” said Bhalla. The plant’s intended operation life is 100 years.
Mayor Roden thanked the CFO for an excellent report and thanked staff for working to get the most out of every dollar.Closing the evening, council responded to a list of inquiries from gallery member Gloria Mertens.
First, she asked whether the financial report and subsequent presentation would be available publicly online. CFO Bhalla confirmed that will not happen: “This is internal information for council so it doesn’t go on the website. The audited statements will go on the website but the interim statements will not.”
Next, Mertens asked whether Coun. Anstett would be “fired” for missing three consecutive council meetings, as per Village policy. Roden responded that Anstett asked for permission to be absent and as such, will not be penalized.
Mertens also questioned the municipality’s need for an Economic Development and Tourism Strategy, citing a previously approved document from 2018 and another village development strategy completed through Urban Systems in 2015.
“I’m really questioning whether another consultant fee is necessary,” she said. “Just because you get a grant doesn’t mean you should use it… [the money] could go to other things that are more action related than report related.”
Roden clarified that the new strategy is a discrete and extremely focused document. She added that it is very easy for past strategies and documents to fall out of date. Moreover, Ashcroft faces unique challenges locationally, she said, since the community is not directly visible from the highway.
“We need to really focus on getting people to come here,” she said. “People have to make an effort to come to Ashcroft.”
The new strategy will allow Council to help develop ways to encourage visitors to come into Ashcroft and stay there longer.
“I’m really hopeful that this will give us a blueprint on how to achieve that,” said Roden. “It won’t just be council setting direction, it will be the people that are actually involved.”
Mertens responded that the $35,000 grant could help to complete other projects in the community and might be better used beyond the strategy. However, CAO Dyck advised that NDIT actually suggested that Ashcroft update this policy, so the Village complied.
Mertens also inquired into council’s failure to immediately provide a letter of support for the Evans Road Walking Path that was presented on during the August council meeting.
Roden advised that staff is working to collect more information before providing that letter, but Mertens countered that more information wasn’t what was asked for and said she doesn’t understand why staff is investigating for a report if the resolution that requested hasn’t even been passed yet.
“We understand that there may be some historical work done on assessing the appropriateness of that area for a trail, so we want to ensure that we have that information for council prior to making a recommendation,” explained CAO Yanciw. “It would be inappropriate for council to provide a letter of support if it was an inappropriate location, for example.”
As always, council meeting minutes and all documents referenced in those minutes are available for public perusal at the Village office or on the Village of Ashcroft website at www.ashcroftbc.ca.