By Mayor Bob Simpson
As we all struggle to understand and move toward whatever our “new normal” will be, Council continues to invest in our community transition strategy. It’s even more critical that we do so as we begin to better understand some of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our local economy.
For most of its recent history, Quesnel depended on its industrial property tax base to foot the bill for the building and maintenance of core infrastructure (roads, sidewalks, sewer, water, etc.) and most amenity investments (recreation facilities, parks, playgrounds, etc.). At peak, industrial ratepayers paid over 70% of the total tax bill, while residential ratepayers, who get the lion’s share of municipal services, covered well below 20% of the costs of running the City.
The most recent Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic, unprecedented wildfires, and fundamental changes in the way forest products are manufactured have all diminished the relative size of the forest sector in BC. Quesnel has been on the forefront of this change; first with jobs being replaced by technology, then a combination of corporate concentration and significant reductions in the available timber supply resulting in permanent mill closures.
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In 2014, Quesnel City Council finally and fully embraced that a fundamental shift was occurring in Quesnel’s forest-dependent economy and restructured the City’s finances to wean it off its industrial dependency while initiating an aggressive transition strategy to ensure our community remains a vibrant, resilient, and interesting place for people to visit, live, and invest in. It looks like the addition of this year’s COVID-19 pandemic to successive years of pine beetle and fires is going to accelerate the downward spiral in the forest sector, making it even more critical that we drive our transition strategy.
With a combination of grant funding, federal gas tax money, and local tax dollars, Council will continue to make strategic investments in amenities and infrastructure to drive our transition. We’re also actively developing shovel-ready plans for projects that we may be able to undertake should some “COVID-relief” infrastructure funding be made available by the federal and/or provincial governments.
If you’ve been to the landfill, you’ll see that the new Public Works building is progressing well. Once this new building is completed this fall, our Public Works crews and equipment will be moved into their new home, allowing us to redevelop the area around the Johnston Bridge where they are currently located. Plans are being developed for an on-river RV and tenting campground (at the downstream side of the bridge) that will give a significant boost to our local economy in the coming years.
If you’ve been to LeBourdais Park recently, you’ll see that the area between the playground and the parking lot has been cleaned up and new picnic tables installed to accommodate both families using the playground and visitors to the Visitors’ Centre and Museum. This year a major interior and exterior renovation to the Museum and Visitor Centre will also be completed, making this whole area a premier attraction for locals and visitors alike.
Across the street from the Visitors’ Centre and within easy walking distance from the new RV Park and Campground is where the Gold Pan will be relocated to, with an interpretive kiosk that will tell Quesnel’s history, including as the terminus of the rail line, and the importance of placer mining in our area. The Gold Pan will be located beside the railway’s Station House; a premium location for visitors to stop at and near where the Rocky Mountaineer passengers disembark.
These tourism-related investments are only a part of our comprehensive transition strategy, but they are a vital part of our attempt to attract visitors and turn them into residents and investors.
Mayor Bob Simpson can be reached at email@example.com.