A restructuring within Lake Country municipal hall that saw staff layoffs over the past three year municipal term was the hot topic of discussion Thursday night in Oyama as the Oyama Community Club hosted a candidate’s forum in advance of the upcoming municipal elections.
Candidates were grilled on a variety of questions from gates being closed on regional district parks in Oyama, the lack of park facilities for young kids, gravel pits, the future of Pelmewash Parkway and the restructuring plan within the district that has come under fire in the past year.
“How many years will it take to recoup the hundreds of thousands of dollars in severance packages the district had to pay out for the restructuring?” asked Allan Gatzke, a former councillor and one of about 60 Oyama residents who showed up to hear from candidates.
Councillor-at-large incumbent Penny Gambell said it may take up to 18 months before the district is able to pay off the severance while incumbent Oyama councilor Owen Dickie defended the changes at municipal hall.
“What happened is a significant streamlining that has resulted in an increase in production and better staff relations,” said Dickie. “There are costs and those costs are difficult to avoid when you eliminate positions.”
Mayor Baker also defended the moves within city hall, saying the restructuring actually began before the last three year municipal term and is now complete.
“We may have to do some re-hiring, we may have to look at increasing staff but right now we are managing to provide all the services,” said Baker. “It may be hard in some of the departments that are a bit short but we can look at that.”
Baker is running against longtime Lake Country businessman Jayson McCarthy, who told the crowd gathered that it was time for a change in leadership within Lake Country.
“I heard all of council talk about saving money and streamlining in this (restructuring) process and we’ve all been talking about how much we love Lake Country,” said McCarthy. “But the department that felt the most of council’s wrath was the Parks and Rec. department. It has been decimated so I don’t know how you can say we are looking after the taxpayers when Parks and Rec has been cut and those parks are a major reason why we all want to live here. The very people that help us keep Lake Country beautiful are the people that have been restructured or in some cases moved out the door.”
In the Oyama ward, Dickie is being opposed by newcomer Keli Westgate, a self-employed newcomer to the area who was born in Vernon and moved to Lake Country last year. Westgate said she has a vision for controlled business growth in Oyama that could be associated with a future rail trail.
“I see small businesses associated with the rail trail,” she said. “If we can accommodate the small business in a low rise building where seniors could live and they are closer to the amenities that would be great.”
Other councillor-at-large candidates also fielded questions and laid out their platforms to the crowd.
Former councillor Bill Scarrow, who has sat on Lake Country council three times, Arlene Brenner, an advocate for the disabled who is deaf, Don Rae, a software developer and president of the Lions Club and Richard Issler, a businessman who fought to save Aspen Grove Golf Course are running for the two at-large council seats.