Town residents packed the Kinsmen Community Centre to hear what 11 people had to say about the future of Ponoka.
There were nine candidates in the hot seat for town council and two facing off for mayor during the Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce’s Oct. 10 open candidates’ forum. There is one incumbent in the race for council while councillors Rick Bonnett and Doug Gill are running for the mayoral position.
Council terms have been extended to four years from three under an amendment to the Local Authorities Election Act last December.
Better communication from town council appeared to be a recurring theme during the forum where more than half the attendees appeared to be seniors in the almost full meeting hall.
While each candidate had their own spin during opening statements, the question and answer period gave extra insight into their personalities.
Should the Town of Ponoka invest in land?
Mayor Larry Henkelman asked all the candidates about industrial land for sale in the Town of Ponoka. “Right now the new council is faced with the fact that all land is basically sold. I’d like to know where they see the town going with industrial land.”
Bonnett said if the town is going to buy land, then it should be sold as quickly as possible. “If we’re going to do any land purchase, I want to see it turned within three to five years.”
Gill disagreed saying Red Deer had been banking land for some years for future development. “They can control the type of development in that area…I think land banking is a good idea.”
Incumbent Coun. Loanna Gulka suggests there should be pride in the sale. “To me it speaks of pride in our community when we don’t have land for sale.”
Sandra Lyon agrees. “It just shows that we do have progress out there.”
Although Dave McPherson is not involved with land development he would “like to see land sold in the town.”
Carla Prediger wants to know why this question should be answered now. She feels there should be more planning for the future. “As we move forward we should be looking at gaining land but I guess I’m kind of wondering why are we asking that now?”
“Why is the town getting into real estate? It doesn’t seem to be a good venture for us,” stated Craig Saunders.
Marc Yaworski feels Ponoka should have a fully serviced industrial park ready for business. “That’s what the other towns are offering when these companies are coming in looking to settle.”
He suggests the question people should be asking is why the land sat for so long. “The town wasn’t doing its job trying to sell to businesses.”
Tax increases and a multiplex
Another question from the crowd was from Coun. John Jacobs who is not running this time. He wanted to know how candidates would expect to pay for a new multiplex, which he estimated at $20 million. “How much of a tax increase are you prepared to give the taxpayer to have this?”
Underhill did not feel enough information was provided with the question and Jacobs’ estimate that taxpayers would see approximately $500 to $800 tax increase per household.
“Do you have other grants that you’re including? Are you looking at a debenture? Have you gone to the county for money? Without that information I don’t feel I can answer that question adequately.”
Lyon agreed with Underhill; she wants to speak with residents on their wants.
A tax increase may come with a new multiplex, said McPherson but he did not feel one would be at five per cent as was suggested by Jacobs.
Gulka feels a multiplex is something the community wants. “We owe it to our community. We have a responsibility to provide services that the people in our community are asking for.”
Falkiner feels the different stakeholders must come together to leverage funding. “There are groups in Ponoka that are fighting little individual battles.”
Behm wanted clarification on what was actually in Jacobs’ proposed multiplex. He suggested the town could start small to help organizations flourish and even consider corporate sponsorship. “Our organizations in town cannot grow because we do not have the facilities.”
Yaworski says planning now for the building is important. “It’s not going to cost us a lot of money to start planning for this facility.”
“Recreation facilities have been on the radar for the last three councils,” stated Gill.
He says the town must pay for maintenance. “Are we prepared to sustain the facility once it’s built?
Bonnett says there are not many government grants available and wants a long-term plan. He sees the town, county, the province and service groups working together with the plan and making an early investment. “We do have to acquire a place where it could be going.”
He wants to see the population increase to help with the cost with minimal tax increase.
“We don’t need to raise taxes if we can get that tax base built up,” added Bonnett.
Policing costs during the Ponoka Stampede
There were some written questions provided but most had to be read at once as the forum ran out of time. One question seemed to stir passion among some candidates, which was: “What is your position on the town paying for policing during the Ponoka Stampede when it’s the Stampede board that makes the profit on the event?”
Falkiner took a first stab at the question. He suggests a fee for parking for trailers will help pay for the cost. “Why don’t you charge each trailer $25?”
Saunders feels strongly about the association and suggests the group should pay for policing. “The Stampede Association can open up their wallets son, because you’ve got some bills to pay.”
No other candidate spoke on the question.