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City plans talks with ministers at UBCM conference

By Michael Potestio - Merritt Herald
Published: September 04, 2013 3:00 PM
Updated: September 04, 2013 3:54 PM

A group from city hall will be in Vancouver later this month to ensure Merritt stays on the radar of the provincial government.

The mayor, MLA Jackie Tegart and a group of councillors — including Mike Goetz, Dave Baker, Harry Kroeker and Kurt Christopherson — will be attending the annual Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention from Sept. 16 to 19.

They will discuss local issues with provincial ministries at the convention.

Merritt Mayor Susan Roline said she will also meet with the premier to give her an update on what’s happening in Merritt, the city’s needs and to thank her for the province’s past support.

Roline said most meetings will continue ongoing talks the city has been having with various ministries.

“We’ve been going down there each year and talking to the different ministries that have any connection to the things that we’re working on in Merritt,” Roline said, noting they will have almost all new ministers to talk with.

The main goal of the meetings is to make inroads with the government and ensure the new ministers know Merritt and don’t lose sight of the city’s projects and initiatives, Roline said.

“We haven’t asked for a financial request on anything right now, it’s all just ministry support,” Roline said.

Roline said some of the needs the city wants to discuss includes bringing back government services that left town in the 2000s, which she said are still needed, given the changes in Merritt’s population size and its demographics.

Social services, mental health services and probation services are all needed again, Roline said.

“Small portions of them have come back but we still need more,” Roline said, noting Merritt had poor socio-economic rankings in the latest B.C. statistics report.

“The only way you can improve those is if you have the right support systems in place,” she said.

Roline said Merritt used to have a probation office and a Ministry of Social Services office — now located in Kamloops.

“Merritt does deserve these things. Our taxpayers here pay the same as somebody sitting in Kamloops paying taxes. We all pay the same rate, but we don’t get the same level of services,” Roline said.

She said she believes Merritt is being shortchanged when it comes to these services and deserves its fair share.

Roline said there is a need for different types of housing in Merritt, such as transition housing, shelters and affordable housing, which will be discussed with Housing Minister Rich Coleman.

With Health Minister Terry Lake, Roline said they will discuss inequalities in medical services for Merrittonians, such as the requirement to travel to Kelowna or Kamloops if in need of a medical specialist at times when a specialist is not visiting Merritt.

With Forests Minister Steve Thomson, Roline said they will discuss the city’s application to purchase 10 acres of Crown land in the Bench area.

She said they will also discuss the Gateway 286 project, which has been stalled for the last 10 years. That project involves the application for 200 acres of land near the B.C. Visitor Centre in Merritt by local First Nations bands. The city is a partner in the venture and would supply services to the area as it’s within city limits. The project would see residential and retail development near the B.C. Visitor Centre.

With Transportation Minister Todd Stone, they will discuss the need for upgrades to Nicola Avenue as well as needed improvements to the Voght Street and Nicola Avenue intersection, which Roline said the city cannot afford on its own.

She said they’d also like to discuss any plans to make Nicola Avenue a complete four-lane stretch of road.

“As Merritt’s getting busier, our corridors are getting much, much busier and we have to start looking at some solutions,” Roline said.

She said the province would be restricted in the potential expansion of the road at the Coldwater interchange as it goes through First Nations land, though any amount of expansion would help.

Roline said when it comes to these types of meetings, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

“Ministries respond much differently when you’re going there, informing and gently asking; much better than [if] you go down there and you’re demanding,” Roline said.