Housing, concerns about a new upscale municipal office and policing costs were among the issues Osoyoos candidates fielded at a municipal election forum Tuesday evening.
And while there weren’t a lot of promises, the event did offer its share of unique ponderings.
The event, organized by The Osoyoos Times, brought about 350 people to the Sonora Centre — the largest number of them local seniors.
Eight of the councillor candidates and Mayor Sue McKortoff attended. Not attending were councillor candidate Jane Long — who begged off for family reasons — and mayoral candidate Doug Pederson.
The event was moderated by the South Okanagan’s Chamber of Commerce’s executive director Veronica Vinge.
“If you’re sitting here tonight, it means you want answers,” suggested council candidate Myers Bennett during his opening remarks. “You’re here on your own time because you care about Osoyoos and you want to make sure I care about Osoyoos as much as you do.”
The candidates — a number of them fairly new to the community — expressed they certainly did care for Osoyoos and wanted to make a difference in their adopted home.
“I came here two years ago to visit some friends and I bought my place immediately,” said candidate Kenny Music. “I fell in love with the place instantly.”
Added candidate Shelley McIntyre: “This is my forever home, too. I am running for town council because I love Osoyoos. I have a lot to give Osoyoos and I’m willing to listen.”
The event did have its share of surprises, perhaps the biggest coming from incumbent CJ Rhodes, who responding to a question about what to do about a decaying town office, said he would like to see a new shared-space facility that included municipal offices and a conference centre.
“I have a dream that involves the soon-to-be-available museum site on our Gyro Beach area,” he said. “We have a serious lack of a large convention centre in our community. We would have the ability to put a facility like that in that particular area and perhaps combine that with a town hall facility as well.”
He prefaced his remarks by reminding voters of his desire to see the existing facility renovated, “but if we’re going to move on we should look at all the options available to us.”
Questions from the floor included concerns about:
Candidates noted agriculture and tourism are the community’s best bets, although concerns about housing and a lack of an industrial base were noted as drawbacks.
“We are a tourist-based town . . . we’re not going to have a big sawmill move in down the street tomorrow or a marijuana plant like the one that just got announced in Princeton,” said Mr. Bennett.
Added candidate Sherani Theophilus, “I think there’s space for the tech sector to set up here. (People) could work in a beautiful place and work digitally.”
Candidates encouraged “creative thinking” to engage developers and two senior levels of government to provide for more affordable housing in the community. Some of the ideas proposed included tax incentives, allowing the sub-dividing of large lots and refocussing taxes collected away from providing services and into making building space available.
“We live in a resort town so that tends to drive prices up,” said councillor candidate Brian Harvey. “But I think creative planning, creative zoning is one area that Council and staff can move to getting more affordable housing.”
Incumbent Jim King noted there are several categories of “affordable housing,” including making space available for summer staff, subsidized rental housing near-market purchase housing.
“Other things we’ll be looking at is possibly carriage housing or rezoning to allow more people to live closer together,” he said.
Development of a new town hall
All candidates shied away from wanting to build what questioner Peter Hastings called a “Taj Majal,” preferring to renovate the existing facility or, if necessary, construct a modest town hall facility.
Candidate Sy Murselli would prefer to repurpose the Sonora Centre as a municipal facility.
Mayor Sue McKortoff injected a little humour into what will likely be a difficult challenge for the new council.
“I think what we need to win the lottery because we not only need a town hall but we got a study last week that shows if we were to put up a health care facility the cost of that is about $10 million,” she said. “Somebody needs to win big time and donate it to the town.”
Accommodations for agricultural workers
Candidates tended to place the onus for summer worker accommodations on other levels of government — especially the Regional District — and the farms themselves, hinting that the Town would be a secondary partner in that effort.
“The solution to the problem is to have every farmer engaged in hiring workers to provide accommodation on their fields and in their yards and then the problem will go away,” suggested Mr. Rhodes.
“If you have housing, you end up with the best pickers,” noted Mr. King.
However, Ms. Theophilus noted many pickers would prefer not to live on the property they service.
“Living on the property would be ideal if there was safety involved in that,” noted Ms. Theophilus. “(But) it’s not an easy solution. What’s happening now is not enough. It’s sub-human in some cases how they’re treated.”
Consumption of cannabis products in public areas
Candidates generally saw smoking marijuana on Osoyoos streets and in local parks as similar to smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol publicly.
“I think that our biggest concern is that we’re going to have to look to Bylaw to enforce this because it may be a bit tricky for awhile,” said Mayor McKortoff.
Mr. Harvey noted allowing the recreational use of cannabis will also be a problem for strata buildings and other local organizations.
Mr. Burselli added he was absolutely opposed to the use of marijuana in any capacity, calling it “dope.”
Creating more opportunities for youth and families
Grade 5 and 6 students from Osoyoos Elementary School attended the session and were given the opportunity to ask a question relevant to young people in the community.
Candidates talked about existing opportunities but also encouraged young families to share publicly their wishes for new opportunities and programs.
A suggestion from Coun. King to move forward a regional swimming pool was met with applause.
Providing for a health care centre
Candidates all agreed additional health care facilities in the community were necessary but were also uniform in their concern for the “mind-boggling” cost of building and operating those facilities.
Candidates were supportive of local policing efforts, what one called a “thankless job,” but did want some tweaks to service.
“I would like to see policing between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m.,” said Ms. Theophilus. “I agree we need to have 24-hour access to policing.”
Mr. Music suggested programs such as Block Watch and community policing might be effective in supplementing local RCMP efforts.
The forum came a day before voters can cast ballots during advance voting, which is taking place today at the Town of Osoyoos Council Chamber from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.