With one year under their belt, town councillors have put into place changes intended to see growth in Ponoka.
Despite these changes, Mayor Rick Bonnett says they still have much to do. Among the list of things is the repair of many of the town-owned buildings.
“We know we’ve got a lot of infrastructure that’s in ill repair,” said Bonnett.
He says the passing of the 2015 interim budget allowed for some room for growth. Issues with the price of oil and whisperings from the provincial government that funding will be dropped cause him come concern and he wants Ponoka to be prepared for that eventuality. “$60 oil scares me.”
In an effort to be prepared for growth, the mayor, along with Stephen Novak, economic development officer and five Ponoka-based developers are heading to the International Council of Shopping Centers in Whistler, B.C. at the end of January.
Last year, councillors and some staff attended the conference, but Bonnett says this year they know more of how the conference works and intend on putting Ponoka developers in contact with company planners.
“We got a lot of traction from it last year,” said Bonnett.
He says land annexed on Highway 2 across from the Don Laing Industrial Park will be a big focus of council for the next two or three years. Some plans have already been approved in the interim budget with $130,000 for an electrical line feed to Highway 2.
“We want to explore the cost and scenario if we had a lot of a development on the highway,” said Bonnett.
He feels trips to Whistler for the conference are worth the investment as they are integral to economic development.
Accomplishments also include providing more open dialogue with residents by allowing people to speak to council during regular meetings and by opening up budget deliberations to the public. Other accomplishments of town council in 2014 were the development of a new strategic plan and the hiring of a new chief administrative officer.
Bonnett is eager to see the budget process improve by allowing residents to share input in the springtime.
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Replacing the North Bridge is estimated at $3.5 million and Bonnett says that is just the start of major infrastructure improvements needed in town.
The RCMP detachment is expecting to be relocated to a new building in the next few years and many town-owned facilities need repairs, said Bonnett. Raising taxes may be something councillors and residents will have to consider.
“You have to remember we’ve had 20 years of low taxes,” said Bonnett.
Similar to the provincial government relying on oil revenues for their budgets, Bonnett says the town has relied on electricity revenues to support Ponoka’s budget. Council’s focus is going to be more on proper staffing levels and ensuring workers are up to date with their professional development.
Bonnett says residents can also expect to see a push in bylaw enforcement and dealing with dormant properties and empty buildings.