Council rescinds stage purchase plan

Agassiz mayor opts to open dialogue with community over legacy project

Kent council has taken a few steps back in a recent decision to purchase a mobile stage for the community.

At their Oct. 14 meeting, council had voted 2-1 to purchase a stage from a company called Stageline. The money to purchase it, at about $160,000, would have come from an unbudgeted $209,000 earned from the filming of Wayward Pines over the last year. It was planned that the stage would be a ‘legacy project’ that would enhance arts and cultural events at multiple sites within the District of Kent, with the possibility of renting it out to interested parties to help earn some revenue for the District.

While the decision to purchase the stage was based on a 2008 Community Needs Assessments, many residents contacted the District to complain after hearing about the purchase through a story reported by the Observer.

“It’s something that was in the works for a couple of years,” said Kerry Hilts, director of community services. “It’s not something that was pulled out of a hat.”

Enough people complained that at the Oct. 27, Mayor John Van Laerhoven asked council to consider rescinding their decision to allow the public to help decide how to spend the revenue earned from Wayward Pines.

Before deciding to purchase the stage, council had earmarked the money for parks and downtown improvement. That happened in September and was reported by the Observer. Some of the initiatives that were being considered in addition to the mobile stage were: improvements to the playground, chess set, banners and electrical wiring at Pioneer Park, creating a 50/50 matching grant for downtown business facade improvements, improving the weight room at the Community Recreation and Cultural Centre, fixing up the Aberdeen building, a spray park reserve fund, park improvements or a summer concert venue, land acquisition/reserve, an endowment fund for future grant-in-aid projects, an equipment reserve, parks and trails reserve and other projects and improvements.

Now all those ideas are back on the table. After rescinding their Oct. 14 motion, council voted to hold a public meeting where residents can offer input as to how the money from Wayward Pines should be spent.

That meeting will be held on Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. in the upstairs meeting room at municipal hall.

The decision was able to be rescinded because staff had not yet acted on the vote to purchase the stage, Van Laerhoven noted.

Coun. Lorne Fisher voted against rescinding the previous decision.

“I voted in favour before and I still like the idea,” he said. “I think this type of stage gives us a lot of flexibility.”

The District could include it in the Fall Fair, for concerts in Pioneer Park, and for outside rentals to neighbouring communities.

Coun. Holger Schwichtenberg, who was absent from the first vote, said the community is swirling with “misinformation, rumours, innuendo and hearsay.”

While he believes the purchase is a good idea, he said he was “reluctantly in favour of rescinding” the previous vote.

Van Laerhoven said that rescinding the vote and putting it to the public will help the community be a part of the project — if they participate.

“I hope the community gets engaged,” Van Laerhoven added. “We need to ensure the community ends up informed of the details of the stage. They may find that they agree with us.”

Coun. Darcy Striker, who was also absent for the original vote, noted that unfortunately the public does not get engaged with municipal politics.

“We try to get people involved but it doesn’t happen,” he said. “They come out after the fact, but they don’t come out before.”

He added that the most important public meeting of the year, the year-end financial meeting, is often attended by only one or two members of the public.

The meeting next Wednesday will be an open floor format where members of the public can ask questions, and have them answered, and make suggestions.

The next council meeting following the public meeting will be held on Nov. 10, just prior to election day.

For further information contact Kerry Hilts by phone at 604-796-2235 or by email at khilts@district.kent.bc.ca.

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