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Kelowna set to ride out 2010 in good shape, says mayor

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010 | 6:34 pm

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Mayor Sharon Shepherd sees economic recovery for 2010

By Kathy Michaels

To some degree Kelowna residents were buffered from the full impact of the  recession because of  the municipality’s bountiful rainy day fund, says Mayor Sharon Shepherd.

“Anticipating the economic slowdown we positioned ourselves to be ready for any stimulus funds that might come available from the provincial and federal government,” said Shepherd during the Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the City address.

When dollars went up for grabs, this city’s staff were ready to pounce, offering up a number of projects that would meet federal and provincial parameters for spending. Among the beneficiaries were the Apple Bowl, Rutland Arena and the Kelowna Family Y. A number of infrastructure projects that have yet to be completed also got the go-ahead and when all was said and done, Kelowna managed to harness $23 million in partnership funding in 2009 to which it added $14.6 million, money pulled from reserve funds.

“That nearly $38 million total funding, laid the groundwork for us to build a vibrant active city,” Shepherd said, adding that 2010 will be all about following through with plans already made.

Shepherd noted that for the most part, local governments aren’t in the business of altering their city’s social landscape, but many of the projects they’ve set their sights on will do just that. Pointing to a recent report from Statistics Canada, she told members of the business community that Canadians are in an epic battle of the bulge, and a number of the projects that will be completed in  2010  are aimed at getting residents to adopt a healthier and greener lifestyle.

“Sometimes we are accused of getting into areas beyond our mandate as a municipal government. Some say we should stick to building roads, keeping the streetlights lit and delivering water to your taps — and I agree, we do all those,” she said.

“But we also believe we have more important things to do as well. Our citizens look to us to respond to issues…and the City of Kelowna does not believe in pointing fingers at other levels of government for action, because that just does not work.”

Wherever they build a road, a cycle pathway is not far from mind, and routes and and connections are always being plotted.

“Eventually we’ll have an inclusive community that’s accessible,” she said, pointing to plans for a bike and pedestrian overpass that will connect Parkinson Rec to the other side of the highway.

While capitalizing on spending is one of the things the city has done well, Shepherd added there are a number of problems that have yet to be solved by city staff and future economic success hinges on working them out.

Among the biggest challenges is keeping young people in this city, which has already been dubbed ‘the oldest’ in the country by Statistics Canada for its aging population.

Ironically, the population of post secondary educated Okanaganites has never been bigger thanks to advances at UBC Okanagan and Okanagan College, but getting those young minds to focus on the area where they’re getting their education  remains a challenge.

“We all know you can take the person out of the valley, but you can’t take the valley out of the person,” she said, adding she calls those born and bred in the Okanagan land based salmon. They leave in search of a big-city experience, but they’ll inevitably come back.

“Others come from elsewhere and then they’re hooked,” she said.

They need to be hooked earlier on, however, and that boils down to creating a city that has a bountiful number of career options that pay salaries commensurate with the level of education attained as well as housing options that won’t break the bank.

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