Election 2014: Mayoral candidates face voters at forum

Topics of discussion ranged from city infrastructure and the water meter project to economic development to government transparency.

Donna Semenoff (far right) speaks at the mayoral candidate portion of the all-candidates forum on Nov. 5 at GFSS auditorium. Looking on are candidates (from left) Brian Taylor (incumbent)

Based on the mayoral candidates’ forum on Nov. 5, there are no shortage of hot-button topics in Grand Forks.

The five candidates all gave a two-minute introduction, followed by questions from the media and the general public. The forum ended with each candidate’s two-minute wrap-up.

Topics of discussion ranged from city infrastructure including paving roads and the much-maligned water meter installation project to economic development to government transparency.

In her introduction, Donna Semenoff talked about her passion for the community and how she wants to protect Grand Forks.

“I’m all about a team approach—working together to handle our challenges,” she said. “We have a lot of talent in the community and I’d like to see us work together respectfully.”

Incumbent mayor Brian Taylor praised the current council and city staff for the economic success the city has seen recently.

“We need to clearly look at our social responsibilities,” he said. “We have to be cautious were not picking up responsibilities and burdening our taxpayers with those extra responsibilities that should be the province’s or the fed’s. I want to tell you now our city is a city with a heart but we can be careful and make good things happen without taking responsibility away from those other levels of government.”

Peter Demski spoke about the need to create jobs in Grand Forks.

“A large portion of our job force is leaving because there simply is no work,” he said. “GF needs to recover economically. It would also be mutually beneficial to partner with Christina Lake to raise our area’s profile.”

Demski’s three point plan includes attracting tourism, becoming a retirement destination, and an expanded industrial base.

Frank Konrad spoke of several areas in Grand Forks that need improving including economics, tax reform and “failing” infrastructure.

“For a city that stops growing becomes stagnant and eventually dies,” he said. “There needs to be much more transparency at City Hall so that the citizens of this city feel a part of what’s going on around them.”

Cher Wyers, who is running for mayor after spending three years as a councillor in Grand Forks, opened by saying the city is moving in the right direction.

“The Grand Forks that has emerged over the last four years is the biggest improvement I’ve witnessed,” she said. “Yes, it is time to keep the momentum going forward. I’m speaking of the evolution of our city; who we are and where we are.”

Responding to a question from the media regarding why the city hasn’t done more regarding upgrading infrastructure, Taylor said the city has run into problems with an expected grant source for repairs.

“The city asked the electorate for permission to borrow $4.5 million to work on infrastructure,” he said. “At the same time there were economic difficulties at both the provincial and federal level.”

Taylor said the anticipated funding from BuildCanada dried up and the city has to be very cautious before undertaking any road work.

Demski answered by saying he couldn’t understand how the city can spend money on building roads when there are no jobs.

Semenoff said she was told that counting on grants and government funding is unpredictable.

“From going to the Feb. 10 council meeting we were told that our city had twice applied for water meter grants and not got them,” she said. “Our city decided to use our gas tax savings which we’ve gotten since 2006; that money could have been used for solar or transportation. I am very nervous about this approach of counting on grants.”

Wyers stated that the city must use provincial and federal grants to help pay for infrastructure.

“They’re there for our funding partners,” she said. “It’s not a handout. Believe me, we’re all paying the taxes. We need to get some of that money back into our communities. It’s coming.”

Konrad told the audience that council cannot wait any longer on fixing the infrastructure.

He referred to a report from 2009 where “we had critical situations of infrastructure failing.”

“We must start somewhere, otherwise what’s going to happen to our city with that monster underground?” he said.

The forums were sponsored by the Boundary Country Regional Chamber of Commerce.

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