An artists's rendition of downtown revitalization.

Council identifies budget priorities

Two politicians object to spending $30,000 for communications efforts during downtown makeover

Penticton city councillors John Vassilaki and Helena Konanz found themselves sharing similar concerns Friday about how money is going to be spent on the city’s downtown revitalization plans.

Mixed in with proposals to move the city’s waterfront and downtown revitalization plans forward was a proposed communications budget for the Martin Street-Westminster Avenue portion, where construction is due to begin in early 2014.

Simone Blais, the city’s communications officer, proposed allocating $30,000 for a three-part plan: keeping business owners in the one-block area apprised of the changes and upcoming work being done on the street; keeping the physical space attractive and well marked, and communications with the wider public.

The plan was based on advice from counterparts in Banff and Kelowna, who have both completed similar revitalization projects.

Delivering superior communications, Blais said, would help mitigate construction impacts and convert  stakeholders in the business community into revitalization champions.

“I think we recognize Kelowna has more resources than Penticton, so the question was whether we could scale that model to fit Penticton resources,” said Blais, describing the plan, which includes $20,000 for a business liaison officer. “This was deemed the most critical component to the Kelowna project.”

While Kelowna might have found that critical, Konanz and Vassilaki found it anything but for Penticton.

“It is only one block, it is not as if we are doing a whole street that is a kilometre long,” said Vassilaki.

While $30,000 might not seem a large amount of money, he said, all these small charges add up.

“Very soon you will be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars that we can’t afford to spend. We have to watch our pennies. We are not Kelowna. We are little Penticton that has very little tax base.”

Vassilaki suggested city bylaw officers could be used to distribute information and notices to the businesses, but Konanz suggested that’s the communications officer’s job.

“I don’t think it is wise to spend $30,000 on making people into revitalization champions. I just can’t see the value in that,” she said. “This is one thing that is frivolous and we do not need in the 2014 budget.”

Konanz and Vassilaki were the only two to speak against putting the $30,000 item into the 2014 budget. Others were clear in their support.

“Banff and Kelowna could not stress enough the value of communication. We are not at the same level as some of these other communities, but that shouldn’t negate their advice,” said Coun. Judy Sentes.

“It is an investment, an insurance if you will, into what we are trying to achieve.”

Council voted 5-2 in support of the communications budget.

Konanz also expressed concern about another item on the strategic priorities list, part of the planning budget for the Main Street part of the revitalization plan, which has an overall budget of $565,000, including $45,000 for public engagement, which she felt had been done over the course of the last two years in a variety of ways.

“I think we have a really good idea of what the community wants and I don’t think we need to spend $45,000 on community engagement or use of staff time on trying to engage them,” said Konanz.

 

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