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Ashcroft community forum addresses water, waste, and finance

A community forum in Ashcroft last week addressed several topics, including cemetery expansion, water restrictions, finance, and solid waste. - Wendy Coomber
A community forum in Ashcroft last week addressed several topics, including cemetery expansion, water restrictions, finance, and solid waste.
— image credit: Wendy Coomber

Two dozen people attended a community forum in Ashcroft on April 12, which saw discussions about several different topics. The first was cemetery expansion, with councillor Helen Kormendy noting that the current cemetery has no burial plots available, but that it does have ample space in the columbaria for those who wish to be cremated.

She added that Golder Associates have been hired to conduct geotechnical surveys of two sites the Village of Ashcroft has identified as potential cemeteries: one on the Mesa, and one at the south end of Railway Avenue, adjacent to the current cemetery. Since the Railway Avenue site was once home to an oil transfer station, Golder Associates will be assessing whether or not the site is contaminated.

Kormendy noted that the Mesa site has a 10 to 15 per cent slope, and that the village does not know the condition of the soil there. Golder will test both sites and report back to council about the feasibility of the two sites.

Muriel Scallon asked why possible contamination of the site on Railway might be an issue, since those buried there would be dead. “Why would it make a difference, even if it was contaminated?” Kormendy replied that the village would have to follow regulations set by the province surrounding contaminated land, so would not be able to inter a person in a contaminated area.

Mayor Jack Jeyes spoke about solid waste collection, and noted that Ashcroft and area were the last jurisdictions in the Thompson-Nicola Regional District to have tipping fees. “We can thank our friends in Cache Creek for that,” he said; a reference to the fact that between the time the Cache Creek landfill was built in 1989 and when it closed in 2016, the Village of Ashcroft and Ashcroft residents were exempt from tipping fees.

However, when the landfill closed in December 2016 and a transfer station was established at the site by the Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD), tipping fees were put in place, in line with what other TNRD residents pay. Jeyes noted that the Village of Ashcroft expects to pay $40,000 in tipping fees in 2017 in order to take municipal waste to the site.

Ashcroft residents pay a user fee for solid waste collection with their annual utilities bill. However, Jeyes noted that residents can keep utility costs down through some simple measures, such as only putting their garbage bins out when they are more than half full; by recycling and composting as much as possible, to lower the amount of waste going to the transfer station; taking garden waste, and other items accepted at no charge at the transfer station, on their own, rather than putting them out for collection; and coordinating with neighbours to combine smaller loads into a larger one. “If you all have stuff going out there, maybe make one trip instead of lots of them.”

He also noted that the TNRD is having a free disposal day at the Cache Creek transfer station on Saturday, April 22, and that the Village of Ashcroft would be having spring clean-up collection on April 26 and 27 for any items accepted at the transfer station at no charge (including garden waste, tires off rims, and non-cooling appliances).

Councillor Barbara Roden spoke about the village’s water bylaw, which was enacted in 2016 and restricts watering of lawns between May 1 and September 30 (odd-numbered addresses water on odd days of the week, even-numbered addresses on even days).

The 2016 numbers show that Ashcroft residents cooperated with the restrictions, which resulted in a significant decrease in water usage, especially during the peak summer months. There was a 17 per cent decrease of total consumption compared to the previous nine-year average, a significant decrease in summer use over previous years, and a 29 per cent decrease in the peak day demand compared with the previous nine-year peak day average.

It was noted that those with in-ground irrigation systems can reduce consumption by installing an automated rain gauge. These gauges sense when rainfall occurs, and stop the irrigation system from coming on. There are also water conservation kits—containing a water meter, manual water gauge, and more—available for Ashcroft residents from the village office.

Mayor Jeyes talked briefly about the Business Walk that council has planned for May 2017. Local businesses will be visited by a member of council and representatives from organizations such as Community Futures Sun Country and the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training, and given a short survey of 10 questions or less.

Jeyes said that the visits will take place at a time that is convenient for business owners. “It will be an opportunity for business owners to speak directly to council members about concerns, challenges, and successes.”

The final speaker of the evening was chief financial officer Yoginder Bhalla, who gave an overview of the village’s financial position and the projects it was undertaking in 2017, which amounted to $1.7 million in spending, much of it covered by grants. “It’s very busy, and there’s lots going on,” he said. “We’ve been very fortunate in getting grants. We apply for one every few weeks, then go on to the next.”

Bhalla said that projects for this year include work on the new water treatment plant, upgrades to the sewage treatment plant, upgrades to the heating and cooling systems at the museum, upgrades at the arena and historic fire hall, and economic development.

“We’re on top of the water treatment plant work. It’s in full swing, with membrane testing going on, and we intend to have [the plant] up and running by the end of 2018.” Work at the museum is finished, work at the arena is ongoing, and work at the sewage treatment plant is in the initial stages.

He added that the village is maintaining a 2.5 per cent tax increase, while noting that the village is facing annual rate increases beyond its control: a 12 per cent increase from FortisBC, a four per cent increase from BC Hydro, a 4.9 per cent increase from ICBC, and the loss of revenue from the Cache Creek landfill ($20,000 per year), in addition to the estimated cost of tipping fees ($40.000 per year).

“These are cost pressures faced by the village every year. They are increases we can’t control, and they are significant challenges, but we will deal with them in the best way possible,” said Bhalla. Municipal taxes will increase by 2.5 per cent this year, resulting in an average tax increase of $29.52 per residence. “It’s better to have a gradual tax increase, to cover inflation, rather than a sudden large one that can cause hardship.”

Bhalla added that residents should be aware that the village only gets to keep about 50 per cent of each tax bill. “The rest goes to the TNRD, the school district, the RCMP, the B.C. Assessment Authority, and the Municipal Finance Authority.”

The village’s financial position is a good one, especially when compared with many other similarly-sized communities, but Bhalla noted that while the village does have about $5 million in reserves, 85 per cent of those funds are restricted.

He added that while the book value (original cost) of the village’s assets is about $20 million (what it cost to build them at the time), the replacement value is estimated at five to ten times that in today’s dollars.

“Given the size of the assets, this is not a large reserve. However, an asset management plan is being formulated that will give us a better handle on asset condition and value, which allows us to better formulate repair and replacement plans.”

Ray Bewza asked what the timeline was on more housing, noting it was crucial to get more families here. Bhalla replied that the village was working on that, and referred to proposed development on the mesa, which he identified as a priority for the village.

Bewza then asked if the village would be doing the work there, or hiring contractors. Bhalla answered that would depend on the work being undertaken, given the lack of staff.

Anne Marie McLean asked if there were plans to put sidewalks in on Ranch Road near the school, and Bhalla replied that the village had put up extensive signage, as well as painted lines and sidewalks along the road. He also noted that constructing a sidewalk there would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even as much as $1 million.

Bill Hacock noted the deteriorating pavement on the 200 block of Bancroft Street, and Bhalla replied that as part of the asset management plan he was looking at the village’s roads, and coming up with a plan to replace certain roads at certain times.

McLean asked if there was a list of projects the village was working on, and Bhalla said that information would be available at a town hall meeting to discuss this year’s budget on May 1.

 

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