In the second part of a series of stories looking at the challenges facing a town like Golden, Mayor Christina Benty shared her views on Golden’s future .
In Benty’s opinion there are many challenges facing Golden at the moment.
“Urbanization, the loss of jobs in the resource sectors and major retail purchasing drain heading to Alberta because of lower prices and taxes,” Benty said. “We are dealing with a huge gap between resources and expectations. We need to target our limited resources like never before. Roles and responsibilities of municipal government have grown and revenue tools are limited.”
Benty explained the senior governments can introduce a flexibility with grants which she thinks will aid communities while also allowing them to better prioritize to meet their infrastructure needs.
Benty added, “Don’t centralize government services. Even the loss of two to five decent paying jobs in a small community has a significant impact.”
She also said the time had come to stop using a funding model solely based on population.
“It marginalizes small rural communities with unique conditions that cannot be compared to large urban centres,” she said.
Benty also believes it is important to continue to invest in post secondary education programs that focus on rural development and support young people staying in their community. More communication between the different levels of government, and the need for the Provincial and Federal governments to participate in a conversation with municipalities, is also going to be important according to Benty.
“The traditional tax share of 50 per cent/42 per cent/eight per cent (eight per cent being the local government share) is not sustainable. Municipalities desperately need new and secure revenue sources.”
The current economic situation also affects people in smaller communities according to the Golden mayor.
“It has people very frustrated and nervous about the future. We have lost families to higher paying jobs in the oil industry in particular,” she said. “Lack of family feeding jobs in our community has resulted in a decrease in the permanent population. This amplifies the need to find the money to invest in the things that keep people in communities. Jobs attract people but even more importantly people attract jobs. It is important to create a place that people want to be in.”
Benty also said it is important for the public to get involved to influence decision making.
“There is a reciprocal responsibility between elected officials and the public. Informed conversations can take place when there is a common understanding of what the challenges are facing our community. It is important that the public not only react by telling us what they don’t want but, they participate in telling what they do want. This takes time, money and a willingness to be involved,” Benty said.
“One of the best ways to do this is to be part of the OCP review process that will be taking place shortly. The OCP is the key guiding document for communities. It outlines the grand vision for the future from which the community to work backwards from in order to achieve it. Council is not required to do everything within the OCP. Generally the mandate is too broad. What is equally true however, it that Council cannot make decisions that contravene the community’s primary guiding document.”
As for Golden she wanted to state, “With our natural surrounding, our existing structures and our resilient populace, we will survive the economic down-turn. We will continue to adjust to new and challenging economic realities and we will do so with a resoluteness that has sustained Golden through prosperity and adversity.”