The pieces are coming together for the District of Sicamous and Mayor Terry Rysz wants to keep the momentum going.
With a new water treatment system coming online, funding secured for upgrading the wastewater treatment plant and the recent hiring of Evan Parliament as town manager, Rysz and council have been able to check off some major boxes on their to-do list. These achievements, said Rysz during a year-end chat with the News, have further energized the municipal council going into its second year of a four-year term.
“I think now that they see they’re starting to achieve some of their goals, they can see some light at the end of the tunnel,” said Rysz. “We’ve completed some projects and we’ve got some projects that are in the crosshairs, like the roundabout situation and the upgrading of the wastewater treatment plant, the upgrading of Shuswap Avenue and so forth. This council is completely energized and I think, now that they understand how the process works, they’ll be even more dynamic.”
Rysz points to the hiring of Parliament as a particularly important step for council. Council hired Fred Banham in February of last year as district chief administrative officer. Banham started work in March and resigned in July. Soon after Tim Palmer was hired as interim CAO, and remained until Parliament was brought onboard.
“A year later and we now think we’ve finally found the right fit for this council – that was challenging,” said Rysz. “The group though has adapted well and they’re very results-driven so I think it’s taken a complete year to get this model in place now that’s going to really work well for the District of Sicamous.
“I think, from the councillors’ perspective, they found it challenging as well because I think they would have liked to have seen more done in 2015, although there was a tremendous amount of accomplishments that did take place.”
Soon after the 2014 municipal election, council introduced a portfolio system in which individual councillors were tasked with jobs/pursuits related to their personal areas of interest and/or expertise. These portfolios have councillors exploring a variety of potential projects for the community, from the enhancement of local trails to making Sicamous a dementia friendly destination to the dredging of the channel and the establishment of a sea wall. Meanwhile, the district is also in the process of updating its official community plan, working towards an economic development society and a rebranding of the community for tourism/marketing. Rysz sees this division of efforts beginning to come together in 2016.
“Even though we’ve all got these different portfolios, it’s all starting to meld now. All of this, in reality, is going to be for the future and success of the District of Sicamous. Like I said, it’s just not about one thing,” commented Rysz.
Rysz was asked to comment on council’s fiscal prudence, with a couple of recent financial decisions having raised eyebrows in the community, including the district’s recent purchase of the lot at 200 Main Street for $500,000, and putting $300,000 in the budget for a proposed sculpture to be placed in Highway 97A/Main Street roundabout the province will be constructing.
“This council is made up of business people, and in the business world, it’s income versus expense,” explained Rysz. “This council is very aware of that. So in a lot of cases they’re frugal, and in some cases they’re willing to spend money in order to make money. It’s a combination of both, but they are absolutely excellent at looking at all of the different options when it comes to putting money into the budget.”
Speaking specifically to the land acquisition, Rysz said council felt the 200 Main Street lot is an important piece of property to have.
“As we develop the community, that property will become more and more valuable,” said Rysz. “I would say that piece of property, within five years from now, will be worth a million and a half dollars.”
As for the roundabout, Rysz says the district is reaching out to stakeholders to share in the $300,000 investment, noting it will serve as a gateway to the Shuswap.
“We’re willing to be the gateway to the Shuswap if the Shuswap is willing to support some of the advertising that will be in the roundabout,” said Rysz. “And the roundabout is going to be a real showcase for this entire area.”
Looking to 2016 and beyond, Rysz sees further economic opportunities to be had in partnership with the community’s houseboat companies. However, he’d also like to see Sicamous attract year-round employers who will help boost the community’s population. Getting there, he explains, will involve finding the right “wow-factor” for Sicamous.
“The key to having a vibrant community from a tourism point of view is you have to have wow factor,” said Rysz, referring to communities like Barkerville and Whitehorse as examples. “We’re so lacking in that wow factor but it’s so doable. That’s what this council and our OCP have to create for the future of this community… It’s not going to happen overnight, but I do think we can probably get it accomplished in five to 10 years.”