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Mayor looks to year aheadBorrowing bylaw, roads investment among big accomplishments in 2012: Heyck
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Last month, Heyck highlighted the important developments made in 2012 and laid out related challenges that lie ahead.
The most important council decision this past year, according to Heyck, was the city's creation of an asset management plan and approving a bylaw to borrow $20 million to fund a new water treatment plant plus other infrastructure needs. That directive will alleviate a number of immediate necessities with drinking water quality, major roads and sidewalk repair, and crumbling pipe issues.
The 2013 budget also allocates $2.6 million for road rehabilitation on Deh Cho Boulevard, Morrison Drive, and Raccine Road/Ingraham Drive/Doornbos Lane. In principle, $3 million is expected to be put toward road rehabilitation over the next two years.
The improvements won't come without their inconveniences: street closures and detours can be expected in the near future.
"Given the amount of water and sewer work and road rehabilitation that we are planning, Yellowknifers will probably see more detours and roadways shut down for that purpose," said Heyck. "It is inevitable. If you're digging up streets, you're going to have to close them down for traffic. But I also think five years down the road, the state of our infrastructure will be much, much better than it has been in recent years."
Heyck says he also wants to focus on Kam Lake which has been "neglected."
"The reconstruction of Deh Cho Boulevard, for example, will be a good first step in starting to address some of those problems in Kam Lake," he said, adding the largest investment next year - $1.3 million - will cover 1,196 metres of road.
Heyck is also aware that borrowing for such projects will mean council will have to be financially prudent so that over the long term, the city doesn't run into similar infrastructure problems.
"This is not the type of issue that can be addressed once and then is left, otherwise we will find ourselves in the same situation three decades down the road," he said. "There are probably some policy decisions that council will need to make in terms of looking at an infrastructure reserve fund, where we can set aside money when big projects come along. That way we're not forced to borrow or scramble for funds to do them."
Heyck says a close second in his list of top accomplishments in 2012 is council's approval of a borrowing bylaw in August for $15.7 million to repair crumbling water and sewer pipes in Northland Trailer Park. This was an issue that originated long before his nine years on council, so he says it was a monumental step for the last council to have taken.
Heyck said increasing and diversifying housing development so that the city can build on its tax base and offset property tax increases in coming years rounds off the top three accomplishments.
"For the first time I can recall on my term on council, we have a whole range of housing options, whether it be single-family homes, town homes, carpet-style condos or larger estate lots out at Grace Lake," he said. "It was a big accomplishment to see that much development happening this past summer. "
Most of this means a lot of the city's challenges over the past decade have been mitigated, says Heyck. But he also says a number of related challenges lie ahead. While specifics will be clearer in the new year after council finalizes goals and objectives for the term, he would like to see city staff communicating better with residents at the neighbourhood level on a regular basis. He also says there is a strong likelihood council will want to review the development process, and reduce the red tape in getting apartments and other homes built.
Much talk has surrounded council's decision to dismiss Bob Long as senior administrative officer (SAO). Heyck remains reserved when asked if he has regrets about how Long's tenure panned out.
"I think we are focused on the future at this point," he said. "We have a new council and a new mayor and we are looking at taking the city in a new direction over this term of office."
Heyck says he wants a collaborative approach in the hiring process for the position and he is waiting to see what objectives council sets out for the city before saying who he envisions will make an ideal SAO.
"Essentially, the person in that position is expected to carry out the direction of council, so I think after we have the opportunity to sit down and have those discussions in January or February that will set the path for where we want to go with staffing that position," he said.
When pressed about whether he learned any lessons from council's experience with Long, he was even less forthcoming.
"It is hard to say," he said.
Despite the city's failure to get district energy heating off the ground in the downtown, Heyck, who had been a champion of the project, says it is important to look at how to get away from fossil fuel use.
"I think it is one of those projects where we went into it with very good intentions," he said. "The issues that led us to look at downtown district heating still exist in terms of energy security, cost of living and the high cost of energy and the greenhouse gases we emit from space heating."
Some of the difficulties, he says, included how the subject was communicated to residents and meeting the timing requirements of the federal funding which would help pay for the project.
Now into the new year, Heyck seems comfortable having completed his first budget as mayor and with a young and energetic council looking to work with him.
When asked a question put to past mayor Gord Van Tighem regarding how often the mayor's mallet has been used to control council debates, Heyck said he didn't expect he'd have to use it.
"I hope not, no," he said laughing. "There is a red button on my microphone (at council) that will cut off anybody else's microphone. Apparently, (Gord) has only had to use it twice over the course of his 12 years, but I haven't had to use it yet."
Mayor's top three Developments in 2012
Mayor's top four things he would like to accomplish in 2013 and beyond
Source: Mayor Mark Heyck