A passion for regional issues and a defense of City Staff. Greg Granstrom runs for a council seat
Interview with Greg Granstrom
By Sara Golling, from an interview on October 27.
NOTE: These interviews are only slightly edited for clarity and brevity. They consist of the actual words spoken by the candidates, who were not given any opportunity to prepare answers in advance. My intention is to give readers an idea of how well the candidates are able to think on their feet and to express themselves in response to the questions.
SG: Can you describe how you think the relationship between Council and the CAO and staff should operate?
GG: Council is the legislative body. Council sets the direction, and they provide that direction to the CAO. The CAO is then tasked with implementing that. The hierarchical structure is like two pyramids — the CAO is at one point of the pyramid, and underneath him is staff, and council is the top pyramid, and they provide direction to the CAO.
SG. Within Council, how do you think relationships should work? How can Council make sure that its discussions are fruitful and in the best interests of Rossland as a whole?
GG: I think each individual Councillor brings their own set of life experiences and goals, and what must happen is that there must be respectful conversation in Council, respectful decision-making in Council, and once decisions are made, Council must — as a whole — accept those decisions and move forward.
SG: If you’re a Council member, and you really strongly disagree with a decision made by the rest of Council, how do you approach that?
GG: Well, the decision-making body is Council as a whole. And there are seven people who make the decisions of Council; and if one or two people disagree with that, that’s fine — however, it has to be known that it is the body that makes the decision and not the individual.
SG: We don’t have a lot of staff, compared with what we had some time ago. We used to have a bylaw enforcement officer. What do you think about the lack of bylaw enforcement now — do you think it makes any difference? Do you think more people need to know about the no-idling bylaw, or other bylaws that seem to get ignored fairly routinely?
GG: We do have a part-time bylaw enforcement officer, and the whole trick, if you will, is to determine what is cost-effective, and how much we wish to spend on bylaw enforcement, and what the effectiveness is of that. … Certainly if the citizens believe that we should enforce our bylaws more, the it would be up to Council to increase the amount we spend on bylaw enforcement.
SG: Council spent a fair bit of time at the last meeting discussing the signage issue and the Design Review Guidelines. There was a bit of a split based on the appearance of town as determined by the current guidelines, and the interests of businesses who are a little out of the way and may need a little extra signage. Do you think the guidelines may need to be re-examined, to ensure that they are sufficiently business-friendly, or do the think the businesses should just — suck it up?
GG: Well, first of all, we as a city have spent millions of dollars promoting our downtown and ma king a downtown core that all our citizens can be proud of. And I think the design guidelines are there to reflect our history and our heritage, and I think that’s very important, and I also think there should be a balance struck between those guidelines and the needs of businesses.
SG: Another issue I’ve heard discussed is the community’s desire, expressed in both the Official Community Plan (OCP) and the Strategic Sustainability Plan (SSP), to have Kindergarten to Grade 12 education in Rossland. What do you think about the City providing any support to the independent school here in Rossland?
GG: First of all, education is a provincial matter. And we as a Council in the past fought long and hard to maintain K-12 education here, and the unfortunate thing is that the enrolment numbers do not make it possible for the school board to keep K-12 here in Rossland. Eight cents of every tax dollar collected goes to the municipalities. Forty-two cents of every tax dollar goes to the province. And out of that eight cents that the municipalities get, sixty-six percent of the infrastructure is their responsibility. We have to realize that our small eight cents has to be used for where we are responsible. Downloading of education costs to the municipality is extremely detrimental to the municipality. Talking specifically about the independent school, if there is a way that the City of Rossland can co-operate, I very much agree that we should, but I also think that we have to understand that education is a provincial matter. And provincially, we all pay school tax, that goes to the province. So it’s a bit of a conundrum. I fought long and hard to maintain K-12 here through the public education system and frankly, the numbers just show that there isn’t the possibility of funding K-12 here in Rossland. But again, if there’s a way we can co-operate with the independent school, I think we should, but I think we have to understand that this is a provincial matter, and that’s where we should focus our attention.
SG: Speaking of other levels of government, some of our tax dollars also go to the Regional District, don’t they?
SG: I was wondering if you think that the amount that’s paid to the Regional District is being well-spent, effectively spent.
GG: I spent the last year on the Regional District board, and various committees, and some of our huge challenges are going to be, number one is the sewer issue. We now have an agreement which, frankly, I’m quite proud of, about the sewer line crossing in Trail. That’s significant dollars, but it has been a good, co-operative effort to get there. Our next challenge is going to be liquid waste management, where we have to upgrade the treatment plant to at least secondary treatment. Those number range from 25 million to, I believe, 47 million, depending on the option chosen. So I think that there needs to be very strong representation at the Regional District and I have experience now that I think would be of great value to the City. The next step in that is a funding formula. Currently it’s a fixed system, Rossland’s share is roughly 24.8% of the cost, but we are moving very quickly — again, decisions which have been made at the table which are very beneficial to Rossland — we’re moving very quickly with the user-pay system. The user-pay system will involve metering the sewer flows, and each municipality paying their share based on flows. And what I think is significant there, is that our efforts to decrease water consumption have resulted in a 30% decrease in water consumption in the City of Rossland. And as we all know, the majority of the water we use is put into the sewer. So our water conservation efforts are going to hold us in good stead when we move to the user-pay system.
SG: What about the remuneration of regional directors?
GG: The decision was made at the regional level to increase the stipend for a municipal director (of the Regional District) to $750 a month, $83 a meeting, plus $50 a month car allowance and mileage; and that decision was made by the board prior to me being there. Rural directors get $1824 a month plus $83 per meeting. If the (Regional District) board chair is a rural director, the chair’s stipend is $44,820 per year (that’s $3735 per month), and if the chair is a municipal director, the chair’s stipend is $24528 per year (that’s $2044 per month.) I don’t see it as effective for councillors at the City of Rossland to argue the point after the decision is made — I also see that at the regional district level. It’s time to discuss it at budget time, but I don’t believe that it’s appropriate to have my personal views expounded when the decision has been made by the board, the same as I don’t think it’s appropriate in Council.
SG: What about the skatepark? I know the City has done its bit in providing the land, and has also given the skatepark association an extension to find funding. Do you think there is anything else the City can do? Can the City put in for grants, as well as the association?
GG: I think if there are grants the City can put in for, by all means, the City should apply for the grants. The City and past Councils have been very supportive of the skatepark to the best of our ability. I support it, totally.
SG: What about the free shuttle bus between the ski hill and downtown? It’s been a great boon to Rosslanders and tourists. I understand that the RMI funding that has been used for the bus is coming to an end in 2016. Can, or should, Council do anything about the shuttle bus when that happens?
GG: Yes, the RMI funding is guaranteed to 2016. It’s also important to understand that the province dictates that 70% of RMI funding must go to infrastructure. For example, places like Tofino and other resort municipalities have used that RMI funding to provide tourism infrastructure — hard infrastructure. And the province has very strongly said that this RMI funding must be used in that manner — we have a bit of a break this year, because the province has said, OK, if you want to use it for a free shuttle, that’s fine, but the funding is going to dry up for the free shuttle. So the question is, how do you keep the shuttle sustainable? And should the shuttle be funded out of property taxes? Or should it be funded partially by stakeholders, and partially by user fees? But it’s a difficult call, to fund a shuttle out of property taxes.
SG: When they say infrastructure, what kind of infrastructure do you think Council could have gone for rather than operating a shuttle bus?
GG: There are examples in other communities. We have used some for signage, which I think is great. Other resort municipalities have used funding for a visitors’ centre, to welcome people to the community — things like that, that are hard, and people see and understand.
SG: Do you think the purchase of a bus would have fallen within the requirement for infrastructure?
GG: I’m not certain there. I do think, though, that whoever is operating this, once they get into the bus business, that may open up a whole other scenario of requirements for licensing, liability insurance, funding, maintenance, so — would it qualify as infrastructure? Perhaps. Does it open up another issue? Absolutely.
SG: I know there have been a number of possibilities discussed over the years for that link with the downtown, such as a lift, or a little railroad.
GG: I think it’s also important to note that out of our property taxes, we spend significant money on public transit. So, if there’s a way — and I know it’s been tried, but I don’t think it’s the end of the discussion — to try to incorporate some kind of shuttle into what we already spend on public transit.
SG: What do you think are the most important things Council is going to have to deal with, in the next four years?
GG: Well, I go back to our participation at the Regional District. The liquid waste management plan, the sewer crossing, the sewer metering, that is an issue that could potentially be very costly, and one that we have the least control over. So that’s one of the biggest issues that we’ll be facing, from my perspective, over the next four years.
SG: People apply for variances for various reasons — they want to build a house higher than the bylaws allow, or close to a property line — how much consideration do you think Council should give to the neighbours’ light and views? Now, neighbours have to put up with whatever a person is allowed to build under the current bylaws, but my question is about variances and whether one should be granted when a neighbour objects on the grounds that it will take away their view, or the sunlight from their vegetable garden — that sort of thing.
GG: Well, the neighbourhood is informed when a person wants a variance, and the citizens have the opportunity to express their concerns about the variance, and the variance then comes to Council. So Council makes the decision makes the recommendation based on the recommendations of staff, plus the input of citizens.
SG: Yeah. But that wasn’t the question; that’s just the procedure. The question was, how much consideration do you think Council should give to neighbours’ desire to maintain a view, or sunlight on their garden, that they already have?
GG: Certainly, the goal of Council should be to maintain the ambience, if you will, of the neighbourhood, and I think Council must take into consideration the views of the neighbourhood.
SG: It’s been said that Rossland’s council members are among the lowest-paid in the province for a community of our size, and it’s been said — I don’t know how true it is because I haven’t done the research — that our senior staff are among the highest-paid for a community of this size. Do you have thoughts about either of these things?
GG: First of all, as to staffing here at City Hall, we have decreased senior staff by about $150,000 a year in salaries. Our staff are very dedicated and get a lot done for the money. Our staff are not the highest-paid, period. Our staff are in the median — the mean — of salaries paid for similar responsibilities. I understand that some people wish to make that an issue; it isn’t an issue. We get good value for our dollar. As to (Council) stipends, that’s one of the issues that brings people out to vote, when you say you’re going to increase your salary. I’ve been here for nine years now, and I can tell you that it certainly isn’t a gravy train, the stipend. And what we may as an incoming Council wish to do, is form a citizens’ committee, have the citizens look at the facts, and they can tell us what they think.
SG: Greg, you’ve taken a bit of a pummeling in the local press recently. Is there anything you’d like to say about that?
GG: One of the duties of mayor is to be supportive of the decisions of Council. Council makes the decisions, and the mayor is the front person, responsible for supporting those decisions. And I’ve done that. In doing that, you can take the odd knife in the back, or you can take the odd shot to the jaw, but I also know that it’s very important, in order to maintain a Council that works together, that the mayor does that. Some of it has been very hurtful, not just to me, but to my family. And I think we all need to think about what kind of community we want to live in, and what each of us can do, in the way we treat each other, to make Rossland that kind of community.