In a continuing series with Mayors of the Okanagan Valley, reporter Carmen Weld sat down with Lake Country Mayor James Baker for a discussion on the hot topics affecting Lake Country residents.
The biggest change in Lake Country in the last year has arguably been the new highway around Oyama and the introduction of the Pelmewash Parkway.
Commuters to and from Vernon and Kelowna rave about the new drive, but businesses in Oyama, that have been bypassed by the new highway, are not as happy.
Many have come forward claiming the new highway has taken all their commuter and tourist business away.
Baker says the District of Lake Country is well aware of these concerns and immediately pressed the Ministry of Transportation from the beginning to get better signage down to the Oyama area.
“The Ministry has listened and we have got some better signage now but we still need a few more signs indicating where the bed and breakfasts are and the fruit-stands are,” says Baker.
“The more we promote tourism for Lake Country, the better it will be. It is indeed something we are focusing on moving forward.”
The other issue coming out of the new highway is the on and off ramps at Wood Lake. Concerned citizens have come forward claiming the ramps are too short, poorly signed, and dangerous.
“The merge lane isn't long enough and it is difficult to see so we are talking to the Ministry about doing some sight lines on there and getting the merge lane better,” admitted Baker, noting a lengthening or widening of the new on and off ramps is likely not plausible as additional land would need to be purchased.
Taxes also went up this year, 3.5 per cent in the District, leaving some residents asking why the increase and where the money is going.
The Mayor says his team tries to keep the increase similar year to year and that these increases are desperately needed for the old and decaying Lake Country infrastructure.
“We are so far behind in our infrastructure aspects because we are a new district. The roads, water, and sewer all have master plans to upgrade but we cant do it without a tax lift at a moderate rate,” explains Baker.
“This will allow us to put money into making the roads safer. And that is what we are doing this year, we are making Bottom Wood Lake Road safer for pedestrians with cycle paths and pedestrian paths.”
Some Castanet viewers shared their concern over the lack of any visible improvements, however Baker says they are doing as much as they can, as fast as they can afford it.
“We are not falling apart,” said Baker. “We have done an audit on all of our infrastructure and we know what the costs are to fix everything up the standards that they should be, and it is much beyond what our budget is in any given year.”
This fall will also see municipal elections around the province leaving the Lake Country Mayor's seat up for grabs.
Baker is adamant that despite his 26 years in politics, being a retired and an active grandpa, and currently working in his third term as Mayor, he is running again.
“Yes I will run, I still find it interesting and not too onerous yet,” joked Baker.
“We are getting some things done, but there are still things that I would like to see completed before I am no longer Mayor.”
In the next municipal election, municipal politicians will be elected for a four year term versus the current three year term.
If Baker were to win the next election we asked him what he would like to see for Lake Country in his next term.
“Well I would like to see some development in the arts and culture area. We are looking at a museum complex with an art gallery and archives. History is important to us and we would like to keep that going,” explained Baker.
“It could even be a economic driver as well if we get something that is really worth coming to Lake Country to visit.”
You can watch the full interview with Lake Country Mayor James Baker below.