Elections

Transportation, taxes dominant City issues

Taxation and transportation troubles, identifying former grow-ops and regulation of secondary suites were among the topics put before the the 14 people vying for seats on Langley City Council during an all-candidates meeting at Kwantlen Polytechnic University last Wednesday evening (Nov.2).

The meeting, hosted by the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce and the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board, followed an unusual format, in which each candidate was given one minute to introduce themselves before being were asked to vote on a series of “yes or no” questions.

Candidates held up green (yes), red (no) or yellow (abstain) cards to indicate their position. Four names were then drawn, giving those individuals one minute to defend their position.

With so many people running for office in the two Langleys, the format was chosen by the Chamber to keep its all-candidate meetings from becoming unwieldy.

About 75 people gathered in the Kwantlen Polytechnic University Auditorium to listen to the candidates share their views on topics related to business and real estate before submitting written questions about the issues that concern them.

On the minds of the people in the audience — a lack of downtown parking, a costly proposal for signage, tree bylaws, attracting light industry to the City, medicinal marijuana, bicycle lanes and, of course, the ‘A’ word.

The subject of crime, meanwhile, was top of mind for candidate Paul Albrecht, who told the crowd that on Tuesday afternoon, his son was attacked in broad daylight outside the 7-Eleven.

“That can’t happen,” he said.

The chamber opened the question period by asking candidates whether they would agree to look into implementing a taxation system which would give a vote to City business owners.

All 14 indicated they would.

“Business owners should have a say in what happens in their community,” replied Catfish Potesta.

“They are the largest financial contributor and they spend the majority of their day in the community, so they have concerns related to the City.”

The candidates also agreed unanimously to support the creation of a regional mobile business licence, which would be valid throughout the Valley, so that business people who operate in different communities don’t have to apply for a licence in each community.

Thirteen of 14 candidates agreed to support the formation of a transportation stakeholders task force aimed at finding alternatives to the two-cent per litre gas tax. Only mayoral candidate Ron Abgrall abstained.

“I definitely see a region-specific task force,” said Dave Humphries. People south of the Fraser are “being forced into our cars, often two cars,” he said.

“Time wasted on the highway is productive time lost and millions of dollars lost as well.

Response was a little more divided on the question of narrowing the gap between the rates at which business and residential properties are taxed in the City, with three of the candidates flashing red cards.

“I voted no, because businesses get little more in return for their tax dollars.” said former councillor Ted Schaffer, who is seeking to come back.

“Langley City is (among) the lowest in the GVRD — in the neighbourhood of 1:217. I believe that’s very fair and I wouldn’t change it.”

Regarding the need to make better information available to homebuyers if a property has been used as a grow-op or drug lab, Dave Hall replied:

“It’s like buying a car that’s been in a crash. You want to know.”

The difficulty, he said, comes when a property owner unknowingly rents to someone with a grow op.

“Now they’re on a list. There should be a point when they’re de-listed, so they can retrieve the cost of the property when they originally bought it,” he said.

Randy Caine, who recently closed his Langley City medical marijuana dispensary after it was raided by police, said moral and emotional considerations need to be set aside when developing a program to deal with damaged property.

“A home with mould is just as problematic.’

Caine also cast the sole ‘yes’ vote when the question of amalgamation was raised by an audience member.

“We have researched the topic and studies from across Canada show that it doesn’t work. It doesn’t save money,” said Gayle Martin, the City’s longest-serving councillor.

While the Township owes $79 million, the City is debt-free,she noted. “Service in the City is excellent, above and beyond the Township.”

For candidate Darrell Krell, any push for amalgamation would have to come from City residents.

“This seems to be driven by Langley Township,” he said.

Although the City is debt-free, one audience member questioned the wisdom of spending $600,000 on proposed visitor signs.

“It’s expensive, but in the long term it will be worth it,” said Teri James. “Proper signage makes a community look like it cares about itself.

“How else are people going to find us?”

Rosemary Wallace also acknowledged the cost of the signs is high, but said Langley City has many beautiful attractions like Brydon Lagoon, its Nicomekl trail system and Sendall Gardens, which both visitors and locals must be able to find.

Candidates were questioned about their support for the removal of 22 parking spaces from McBurney Lane to a “less desirable” location in favour of walking paths and greenery.

“I thought it was a good idea, to refurbish McBurney Lane,” said Rudy Storteboom. “To my surprise, the merchants don’t like the idea.”

Although he disagreed with the wording of the question, Jack Arnold told the group he doesn’t support the proposal to link Fraser Highway and Douglas Crescent.

“It’s too expensive and I don’t know if it’s the direction we want to go.”

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