Grey skies are going to clear up, so Penticton should put on a happy face.
That’s the prediction Mayor Dan Ashton offered on what’s on the horizon for the Peach City in the year to come.
While many residents were winding things down for the holidays, Ashton said councillors and City Hall staff were plugging away on strategic planning sessions and early budget inquiries.
“We’re going full bore. Traditionally the budget is not available until the end of March, but we’re trying to make it a lot quicker,” he said.
Ashton said the visioning process indicated the city could go back to its roots — with a bit of elbow grease investment.
“The visioning is what we want to be in Penticton. It reinforced again that we’re a tourist area and we want to take a look at opportunities and get the shine back on the municipality. That’s one of my initiatives I’ll be bringing to council is this is the opportunity to re-landscape,” he said. “We’ve slipped a little bit, and a lot of it is the economic turbulence that everybody’s been going through.
“But if we are going to be a resort, tourist community, we’re going to have to start buffing it up a bit. We have to take a look at some of the things available to us that will put the shine back on.”
While programs like Communities in Bloom can help focus the city’s efforts, Ashton said changing the face of the community requires effort from more than just parks staff.
“It’s not only the city’s operations, but the residents and bringing pride back to the community. That’s really important. There’s some outstanding examples of individuals out there … who keep it esthetically beautiful,” he said. “So we’re going to have to take a real good look at how we do it, and how to make improvements. There’s a lot of places for people to go to in the world for holidays, and if you want to be a resort tourist community, you have to be welcoming.”
Projects like these have to fall within the budget, he adds, and the financial discussions are currently underway. Ashton said more than 40 staff members have been working on the budget, and that is leading to efficiencies and a greater sense of ownership among those in City Hall.
“You’ve got skin in the game,” he said. “We’re all working to a common cause instead of just working in silos. Unfortunately, we had a lot of that before. But by being so inclusive, we’re breaking down those silos, breaking down those divisions and everyone’s working toward the same entity.”
Working together is going to be key, Ashton explained, given the state of the current economic conditions around the globe that have trickled down to the South Okanagan. A recent report from the chief financial officer found the number of building permits in November down nine per cent year over year, representing a 71 per cent decrease in the estimated value of construction in town.
“We’ve been fortunate, we’ve got a couple of things taken place … It’s been a difficult fall and is shaping up to be a difficult winter. It’s a reflection of what’s going on,” he said. “We hear about people who have to leave the community to find work. We hear that all time. It’s indicative of what’s happening elsewhere.”
Ashton said he thinks macroeconomic conditions will affect confidence, both in business circles and residents who shop.
“Until this issue gets resolved in Europe, the whole world’s on hold,” he said. “This stuff seems to be moving its way around the globe. The question is, ‘Who’s next?’ When you take a look at what’s transpiring in some of the debt ratios and gross domestic product, well the United States is starting to ring bells, Japan is really ringing bells.
“When we get those types of things settled, we’ll get the confidence back in the general public.”
Locally, Ashton said the arrival of 2012 means pushing himself further to boost staff morale and connecting City Hall with residents to achieve the area’s goals.
“What we have to do as a community is we have to put a few things that transpired behind us and start rallying together. If the direction we want to go in that I hear is a resort tourist community, we have to heal some of the wounds that have taken place … and start pulling together and working together and bring Penticton back for what it was always famous for, which is a place to come, visit, stay, vacation,” he said. “We have all the amenities; we have all the ingredients.
“We just have to get the mix right.”