Community Comment: Village building trust and setting goals

"Council has continued its work to get the village back on track, to build trust with residents and to set achievable goals for the future."

Since our last article in the Trail Times Salmo’s Village Council has continued its work to get the village back on track, to build trust with residents and to set achievable goals for the future.

For the first time Council completed a comprehensive strategic planning session facilitated by our new Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Diane Kalen-Sukra.  This planning session reviewed every facet of our operations and service delivery, including possible projects and prioritized them.

The Village’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Colin McClure then took that document and translated it into a budget (5 year financial plan) which we put forward to the public in two public consultation sessions.  These sessions were well attended, as regular Council meetings continue to be.

In the past, the Village has been challenged to meet the various reporting requirements in the Community Charter and other statutes, whether it be to have the financial plan or the audit completed by the deadline.  While it certainly wasn’t easy, we were able to achieve our goal and by May 15th our audited financial statements and 5 year financial plan were completed.  We’ve also been moving grant applications forward to support proposed projects and the management of our assets and this work has resulted in our first grant being approved.

With our mandate and commitment to making sure the governance of the Village is open and transparent, we continue to use larger venues to ensure that members of the public who want to attend Council meetings are welcomed.  Interest in civic affairs remains high with no regular Council meeting having less than 30 members of the public attend – for a Village of 1100 this is remarkable, a model of local democracy, and a true testament to the interest and involvement of the public.

The reintroduction of a question and answer session at every Council meeting and the move to “Town Hall” meetings with less formality ensures the voters know that their views are always welcome and Council is always prepared to explain the rationale for decisions.  The practice of releasing as soon as possible information from “closed” meetings ensures the public is aware, whenever the law allows, of what Council is doing behind those closed doors.  While the practice is new, it has been welcomed by the public.

Council is pleased to have recruited such a highly qualified CAO to professionalize our operations. Ms. Kalen-Sukra has moved quickly to begin building a staff team that meets the needs of the Village and who understand and share Council’s commitment to open government. This also means that the important separation of Council from the hiring process and other appropriate operational matters is complete.

Our CAO has appointed a new lead hand in civic works, Fred Paton, who has worked collaboratively with her to recruit three summer students. We feel confident that through the ongoing building of a great staff team the Village will be able to provide excellent service while keeping our tax rate one of the lowest in the Kootenays.

The recent visit of The Honourable Judith Guichon, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia to Salmo really crystalized much that is great about our community.  During her visit to Salmo Valley Estates, our new supportive housing centre, the Lieutenant Governor had the opportunity to not only speak to residents about their very positive life changing move to the new facility but also to speak with leaders in the community who had made it all happen.

Former mayors in attendance included Ann Henderson who spoke about the building blocks needed including our medical clinic completed in 2010.  Another former Mayor and long-time Council member Merle Hanson spoke about the years of work by previous Council’s and the many volunteers in service clubs who had provided so much to this Village.  Phil Berukoff, Chair of the non-profit society that operates Salmo Valley Estates and also a former Mayor and Councillor spoke about the 23 years of  work  he and others including Heather Street from our Chamber of Commerce and  Regional District of Columbia Kootanay (RDCK) Director Hans Cunningham had put in to bring this project to fruition.

The Lieutenant Governor’s visit began with a meeting with current Council members – our present.  She then met with our primary and high school students – our future.  She ended her visit with those who had dedicated so much of their lives to making this a great Village with enviable amenities.

Our village is built on the hard work and inspiration of so many volunteers and service organizations. This level of public engagement is one of the primary reasons why our current Council has been able to achieve so much in less than 6 months.  With the continued support from our community, I have no doubt that for our little Village, the best is yet to come.

Stephen White is the Mayor of Salmo.

Community Comment is an opportunity for elected officials from our local municipalities to update citizens in the region on the events, plans and progress in their respective communities. Every Friday, the Trail Times will present, on a rotating basis, a submission from councils, school trustees or regional district directors.