Katie Robinson may have an affinity for Penticton, but she believes the city needs some tough love in the years ahead.
The only female mayoral candidate has been running a campaign based on fiscal prudence that often has been punctuated with the phrase “Suck it up.”
“Finances are my first concern, and that’s everybody’s concern right now. We need to tighten our belt, make do with what you have and make the best of it,” she said, suggesting operating deficits of the South Okanagan Events Centre and Penticton Trade and Convention Centre need to be addressed. “I don’t think there’s a city anywhere, no matter how big or small, that can afford to be losing $1.5 million every year. That just has to stop.
“We’re in a global recession. Everybody knows that it’s a struggle, but I think we can have some more practical revenue and profit making programs that need to come to the forefront.”
Robinson says she wants city contracts, including those for the events centre, to include performance targets to ensure they are profit-generating entities, rather than a drain on municipal finances.
“I’m a very big fan of paying for performance. Always have been, always will be,” she said, adding that commission sales would be one strategy of putting the SOEC and convention centre back in the black and generating surplus revenue. “If you’re going to aim low, that’s what you’re going to get. You’ve got to aim high.”
Her second priority, she said, is cleaning up the city by giving unsightly premise bylaws more teeth and stepping up enforcement, in addition to addressing absentee landlords.
“Regardless of where our finances are, there are certain things you can do to beautify your city that aren’t prohibitively expensive,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of empty lots that are eyesores to the community.”
She wants to see the return of long-term planning so the city doesn’t get sidetracked by opportunities, much like what happened with the remand centre and correctional facility carrot dangled in front of municipalities in the South Okanagan.
“That was a typical example that wasn’t in anybody’s plan until that was dropped in our laps. Because we need the money, it’s easy to grab at something like that and say, ‘This will provide jobs, this will provide economy,’” she said.
Piggy-backing on the Okanagan Hockey School’s success and more than 2,400 children registered in soccer and hundreds in softball and baseball, Robinson said sports tourism along the lines of Kamloops and recreational offerings would generate jobs.
“I was a big proponent that I would rather see us build four-plexes here than prisons. I think that would bring far more into our economy to have tournaments, sports-related or recreational-related, than anything we could ever hope in the other direction,” she said.
Robinson speaks a great deal about extending the city’s tourism season. As a former chair of the Peach Festival and one of the founding Fest of Ale organizers, she wants to see more events held during the “shoulder seasons” as well as winter months.
She sees building the downtown core up with smaller, unique shopping as providing the economic boost the city needs, allowing the city to market itself more as a Canadian centre for wine, food and the arts.
“Traditionally if you want to shop, you go to Kelowna. If you want to eat, you go to Penticton. That was always our forte. We had great restaurants, great entertainment and that traditionally has been the way it has been in the past,” she said, adding that building the character of the core would help attract more people to visit. “It’s not big-box stores. It’s exactly the opposite, in fact.
“We’ve often been referred to as Napa Valley of the north. I think they’re fairly successful and it’s not rocket science. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We have everything right here, we just have to use it.”
And while job creation has been the catchphrase of this election, with many candidates discussing how to attract employers to Penticton, Robinson said she would rather focus on who is already in town.
“I think that something that can’t be overlooked are the businesses that are already in Penticton and have been here for years and years. If we’re going to offer new incentives for new businesses, how about incentives for current businesses who are already here who already have a footprint in our community and are part of it?” she said. “I don’t profess to have all the answers, but sometimes you don’t see the forest for the trees.
“I spent seven years on an oil rig in northern B.C. so I could pay for my first house. If you look at my parents’ generation, they had ‘Go west, young man, and find some jobs.’ This isn’t something new. It’s always been like that. Sometimes you have to spread your wings and go out and, you know, come back when you’ve paid your dues.”