Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone.

Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone.

Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone’s 2016 in review and look ahead

Happy New Year! Happy Canada 150! Well, another year has come and gone.

Happy New Year! Happy Canada 150! Well, another year has come and gone. I would like to take this opportunity to recount where we have been through 2016 as well as where we’re headed in 2017… and beyond.

Let’s start at the beginning then! Through the fall of 2015, council spent several long sessions working through priorities and actions for 2016-2019 to guide our decision making, budget and work plan processes.

We worked through everything from asset management to communications and came up with a clear set of priorities to act on over the coming years.

These priorities are Employment and Tax Diversity; Natural and Built Infrastructure, Watershed Protection and Water Management, Communications and Engagement, and Partnerships. All of these areas have defined action items for each and are contained in the document available on the Town website (search online for “Town of Ladysmith Strategic Priorities” for more detail). Be sure to check out the plan to see what we’ve completed, what we’re working on, and what is on the horizon for 2017 and beyond. I think you’ll agree that it’s a big, bold list and we’re already achieving success by being focussed on these priorities. We will review and refine these priorities early in 2017 and each year moving forward.

On a regional level, the Cowichan Valley Regional District Board and staff have been working hard to improve the outcomes in key areas this year and endorsed bold action on Tourism and Economic Development (EcDev). Ladysmith residents contribute to both of these functions through the CVRD and it’s been a key priority for myself, and the other members of the Board, that we drive greater value for the entire region with these efforts.

The CVRD Tourism function, which manages destination marketing and promotion throughout the region has partnered with the Tourism Cowichan Society to better leverage the funds and expertise of both organizations, working to deliver the best Tourism marketing products on Vancouver Island.

Although still in the early stages, great strides have already been made and we continue to work with the Tourism group to better position all CVRD communities, and Ladysmith in particular, within the competitive tourism market.

In economic development, the CVRD Board and staff have also been making big strides in delivering an actionable Economic Development plan that will bring success. The biggest win in 2016 might be the hiring of Amy Melmock as the new head of Economic Development for the region. Though success is almost always a team effort, it takes a special kind of individual to bring all of the stakeholders to the table to get things done. This seems to be Amy’s specialty. From day one, the new economic development team has been engaging individuals and organizations around the region at every level.

Whether a business leader, elected official, marketing agency or a small business looking to grow and become sustainable, the new EcDev group and Amy in particular have been engaging, listening and providing good analysis and advice for all involved. In the new year, we will be working with this team to review the implementation strategy for 2017. I know that I’m quite excited to get this work underway. The Town, Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce, and Ladysmith Downtown Business Association have also been collaborating on new initiatives, kicking off with a Business Walk earlier this year. The results of this work are available through the Chamber. Connect with them for more great info on what we’re all working on to improve business success in Ladysmith.

Locally, we’ve had a good year. As I learned in my first year as mayor, this work doesn’t come without it’s challenges and often solutions to issues take longer than we would like but with persistence and dedication, solutions do come. With a good dose of hard work, determination and smart strategic actions, we have had many successes in 2016.

With the retirement of our City Manager, Director of Legislative Services and Director of Infrastructure we have welcomed new talent to our management team. We owe a debt of gratitude to Ruth, Sandy and John for their hard work and dedication over the last many years. I am personally very thankful for their guidance, leadership and patience as a new Mayor in my first term. We are fortunate to welcome Guillermo Ferrero and Geoff Goodall to our team as City Manager and Director of Infrastructure, respectively.

The skills, experience and leadership abilities Guillermo and Geoff bring to the Town are noteworthy and I am very thankful for their energy and enthusiasm for the work ahead.

These changes also afforded our new team the opportunity to complete a reorganization of exempt staffing to improve our effectiveness and lower operational costs. I’ve never worked with such a dedicated, effective and motivated group of people and the results are already showing. This is great news.

For more than two years, council, community and our Stz’uminus First Nation partners have aggressively lobbied the federal government for a solution to derelict vessels, and in particular the removal of the Viki Lyne II from our harbour. Many thanks to the hard work of our new MP Sheila Malcolmson, it was finally towed away in October.

I cannot thank our community enough for the support on this issue and individuals (Rod Smith of LMS, Rob Pinkerton for arranging the rally on the waterfront, Chief John Elliot of SFN and the aforementioned MP Malcolmson) for ensuring the pressure remained high and that we were prepared to take advantage of any opportunity to have the VLII safely removed.

Thankfully, this opportunity presented itself earlier this year, and through the many months of negotiation, Ladysmith benefitted with her removal and disposal. This was a potential environmental and economic disaster (and a $1.2-million disposal cost) that was resolved thanks to the collaboration and constructive efforts of many in our community.

This leads me to reflect on our waterfront… the “last of the unplucked gems” if I can quote a great Canadian, Gord Downie.

Throughout this year, council and staff worked through the process of securing the team (Dialog Design) and the engagement plan to put together an actionable, “Made in Ladysmith” plan for our waterfront. This work started in earnest with “pop up” engagement stations rotating around high traffic locations in Ladysmith this fall/winter, where community members provided input to kick start the process. In the new year, there will be many more of these as well as higher profile engagement activities that will lead us through to a finalized plan later this year.

We are already working with investment groups, individuals and senior government teams to ensure we have action resulting from this planning process. A vision to action, 2017 will be an exciting year where our waterfront is concerned. We will bring forward a plan endorsed through community consultation, that will provide a generational opportunity for Ladysmith. We will begin to realize the great potential of our waterfront while ensuring it remains accessible and enjoyable for everyone. Learn more by searching online for “Town of Ladysmith Waterfront Area Plan”. There is a landing page on the Town site with updates and links to all of this important work.

We scored a big win last September at the UBCM conference in Victoria. On the final morning of the conference it was announced that Ladysmith (along with others) had received significant grants for major infrastructure projects. The grant awarded to Ladysmith for our water filtration project, more than $8.8 million, was by far the largest awarded in BC and came after 18 months of meetings with senior government staff, elected officials and other stakeholders. Though we had failed to secure this funding through previous grant applications, this previous “failure” ended up being a blessing. The new funding formula in the latest round of granting resulted in additional senior government funding ($1.5M) for the project. This project is estimated to cost upwards of $13 million though this significant investment from the provincial and federal governments will dramatically ease the cost. The project will take over 2 years to complete and should be in operation early in 2019.

We will have the best water quality and along with our recently completed Wastewater Treatment Plant, be able to provide stable, predictable costs to residents, businesses and other investors over the long term. This is a foundational piece in our plans to drive financial sustainability and support strong economic growth.

It was a banner year for investment in our community. Not only the over $10-million in senior government funds directed to Ladysmith this year, the private sector has also seen a reason to invest in our community.

Although the final 2016 figures are yet to be tallied, we have seen the greatest level of residential and commercial investment in Ladysmith in nearly a decade. A remarkable improvement over the last few years. Although this is great news, we still have much more work to do.

Our Development Services group, management team and myself have been working through the latter part of this year to improve our processes around permits and investment readiness.

We held initial meetings with local builders and developers over the last few months, and are putting together a plan incorporating their feedback on how we can better manage our processes and make it easier to invest in Ladysmith.

We recognize that better process doesn’t mean relaxing requirements or lowering our standards. Better process means that we expect more from ourselves as we work to provide a friendly investment environment that protects our environment, quality of life and supports strong economic growth.

In the new year, we will launch new tools and processes that allow for high standards of development and a strong investment opportunity here in Ladysmith.

This is all good news, but it serves to recognize that many of these efforts weren’t successful the first time. We will always have new issues to grapple with and challenges to resolve. An example of this, is the biosolids composting operation at the public works yard.

Although this process has been managed at the yard since the 1960s the improvement in our wastewater treatment plant, while good news for our marine environment, has created quite an unpleasant situation in the surrounding area. Since February, staff have been working to find a permanent solution but as we have seen with many of our successes this year, finding solutions does take time. I have held numerous meetings with staff and other stakeholders on this through the latter part 2016 and remain committed to resolving this year.

In the year ahead, we have much to celebrate. It’s 2017 and we are celebrating 150 years of Canada! I have always been so proudly Canadian, but these last 2 years as Mayor have highlighted to me the best of our nation and our community. We are especially blessed in Ladysmith. We have a community of volunteers, service clubs, non-profits and community groups that bring an entirely different level of investment and heart to Ladysmith.

We have a respectful, caring and growing relationship with the Stz’uminus First Nation where we continue to lead by example in our reconciliation work.  We have many partners in our efforts to improve the lives of every single person in Ladysmith. We have achieved many of the successes of the past year as a result of these partnerships and community minded people. I expect 2017 will be much the same.

To our council and staff, thank you for your thoughtful dedication in 2016. To our partners, community groups and volunteers who do so much for all of us… thanks you! To every single person of Ladysmith, may 2017 bring you all of the peace, joy and comfort you deserve. Happy New Year! Look out 2017, here we come!