It was weird. But when the sun rose on Oct. 16, Comox Valley voters had made it clear they liked the direction charted by our local governments. In the municipalities, they elected all but two incumbents. In most races, the vote was a definite pat on the back for a job well done.
Melanie McCollum: Finance background has created savings, new grant revenue for city
Melanie McCollum is seeking a second term on Courtenay City Council. She has an undergraduate degree in geography with a focus on urban planning and a post-degree diploma in accounting. She’s worked as a financial analyst for the past 15 years at North Island College.
She represents the city at the regional district where she sits on several committees. Melanie grew up on Gabriola Island and moved to the Comox Valley in 2006.
Why should voters re-elect you?
McCollum is satisfied that things she campaigned on in 2018 were achieved during her first term, somewhat aided by the pandemic. She says addressing the operational challenges of COVID carved out opportunities and extended timelines to get certain things done.
She campaigned on transportation issues and successfully worked on pedestrian and bike safety projects. On affordable housing, she helped make sure that the city didn’t leave anything on the table in creating a number of new units and acquiring funding. In fact, she says, the council offered free land to BC for a housing project and they didn’t take it.
“But I’m working that file all the time and engaging with the province and BC Housing,” she said. “And my priority of densification through smart growth principles led to policy changes and to the initiation of the OCP process.”
She’s contributed to the harmony of the seven people who form the council. She says they all worked together well, listened to each other and were collaborative. To that point, she notes that the last two city budgets passed unanimously.
“Dysfunctional councils get less done,” she said.
What are some of your key accomplishments?
McCollum, is proud of the city’s revision of its Official Community Plan and the connections it makes to climate change action. She says the most impactful way for cities to reduce carbon emissions is to keep development compact and neighbourhoods walkable.
“This idea is embedded through the OCP and it was my biggest motivation for running in the last election,” she said. “I wanted to ensure climate change was at the forefront of decision making and we re-evisioned the OCP with a focus on carbon emissions. That’s work I am extremely proud of.”
But leadership on a council can take different forms, such as making a motion or helping to steer or direct a discussion.
“I changed how the work plan in our budgets was done,” she said.
In the past, funding opportunities have come down from senior governments that the city couldn’t take advantage of because it didn’t have any projects ready. So McCollum championed new budgeting methods that include design and other necessary steps to make projects shovel-ready even though full funding hasn’t been secured. This recently resulted in the city receiving $1.7 million in COVID money that it wouldn’t otherwise have got.
“It’s a better way to do business,” she said. “City management is more complex now and there’s more planning required.”
McCollum also spurred a development plan for McPhee Meadows Park. Land had been given to the city in 2010, but had not made any progress to make it accessible to the public. She championed getting that underway. The city has submitted a $2.9 million grant application to fund the development of the recently completed design.
McCollum’s finance background also led to the creation of the city’s investment policy to prioritize responsible investing, that prioritizes fossil fuels free (FFF) and Environmental, Social and Governance (EGS) factors when making investment decisions. That policy was passed at a recent council meeting.
Goals for the next four years
In her next term, McCollum wants to explore the establishment of a Housing Corporation for the city or regional district. Vancouver, Victoria, even Whistler, have them.
A housing corporation would manage all the affordable housing units – one list for the whole city or region – and even borrow funding to initiate its own affordable housing projects.
Right now, affordable housing units in the city are managed by a variety of entities, including the developers themselves in some cases, who could turn that over to someone else. She says a proposal for the empty lot next to Superstore will provide an additional 20 units rented at below market rate and would be a good start for a Housing Corp.
“I believe it’s better to blend in affordable units with market rate ones, rather than have separate developments for all affordable units,” she said.
Rolling out the OCP will be a primary focus for the whole council in the near future. McCollum is particularly interested in the development of a plan for Harmston Park, which is a potential site for more housing and better use of the public space. The city owns several parcels of land there that she says are underutilized.
And, finally, McCollum wants to find the best use for new-found Municipal and Regional District Tax program money, funds that come from people who rent hotel or AirBnB accommodations. In a change this year, all the MRDT funds from AirBnBs in the city will go directly to the city, about $275,000 annually. Hotels will still get their MRDT tax funds, about $300,000 per year.
“This money will be used for affordable housing and the next Council will decide on how best to do that,” she said.”
The most misunderstood thing about the Courtenay Council
McCollum thinks that most people don’t realize that policing eats up such a huge chuck of the city budget. In the last budget there was a $700,000 increase in policing costs, which equates to a 3.5 percent tax increase on its own. But she says that the council doesn’t direct the RCMP or tell them how to organize their time.
“We actually have little control over such a big part of our budget,” she said.
In fact, McCollum says, council has less control than most people think over many of the issues council grapples with, such as affordable housing. That’s because those resources need to come from senior governments and the province is more likely to support projects in Vancouver or Victoria.
She believes that improving street safety with bike lanes and redesigning streets is not a radical idea.
“It’s common in most every city now and it’s not like we’re eliminating driving lanes or parking.”
She says the 17th Street project has been completely misunderstood, perhaps due to a deliberate misinformation campaign.
McCollum wants voters to know that Courtenay property taxes did not fund this project at all.
“While $1.72 million is a high number and looks really good on a certain candidate’s signs, what they’re not telling you is that 100 percent of the project funding was through the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program. That means that the cost of making crosswalks safer, separating cyclists from traffic, creating cycling connections to the Rotary Trail, the Fitzgerald bike lanes, and the School district’s “Best Routes” to school was a grand total of $0.00 of Courtenay property taxes,” she said.
McCollum supported the 17th Street project because the improvements provide a safe way for children to travel to school and they separate bikes from traffic and make road crossings shorter and more visible. The street is recognized by the School District 71’s Hub for Active School Travel program.
Finally, she said, the new car lanes exceed the provincial standard width by 0.6m on each side. And no parking has been removed.
WHERE AND WHEN TO VOTE
General Voting Day is Saturday, Oct. 15 for all local government positions.
Comox Valley Regional District
General Voting Day (Saturday, Oct. 15) and advance voting (Wednesday Oct. 5 and Wednesday Oct. 12) take place at the CVRD building in Courtenay from 8 am to 8 pm.
Go to this link for General Voting Day locations in the three Electoral Areas.
Additional voting takes place on Oct. 6 from 9 am to 12 pm on Denman Island and on Oct. 6 from 2 pm to 5 pm on Hornby Island
Advance Voting begins on Wednesday October 5, 2022, 8 am to 8 pm at the Native Sons Hall, and again on Wednesday October 12, 2022, 8 am to 8 pm at the Florence Filberg Centre.
General Voting Day, Saturday, October 15, 2022, 8 am to 8 pm at the Queneesh Elementary School, and at the Florence Filberg Centre.
Advance voting begins Wednesday, October 5 from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. at the Comox Community Centre, and on Saturday, October 8 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Genoa Sail Building at Comox Marina, and again on Monday, October 10 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Genoa Sail Building at Comox Marina, and on Wednesday, October 12 from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. at the Comox Community Centre.
General Voting Day runs from 8 am to 8 pm on Oct. 15 at the Comox Community Centre.
All voting in the Village of Cumberland takes place from 8 am to 8 pm at the Cumberland Cultural Centre. Advance voting takes place on Oct. 5 and Oct. 12.
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Mayor Bob Wells and all Courtenay incumbent councillors have been re-elected. Evan Jolicoeur has also been elected. Manno Theos has lost his seat.
Jonathan Kerr, Jenn Meilleur, Steve Blacklock, Chris Haslett, Ken Grant and Maureen Swift have been elected in Comox.
Vickey Brown has been elected mayor in Cumberland, defeating long-time mayor and councillor Leslie Baird.
Voting down -20.6% in Courtenay, -22.3% in Comox and -50.9% in Cumberland.
Full results with Electoral Areas A, B and C, school board and Islands Trust results in the morning.
Daniel Arbour in Area A and Edwin Grieve in Area C won by wide margins. Richard Hardy defeated Arzeena Hamir by 23 votes.
Shannon Aldinger topped the polls in races for SD71 school trustees.
Click the headline on this page for complete results and voter turnout.
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