It’s hard to imagine a bigger change coming to Lake Country than what happened in 2013 with the opening of the new Highway 97 and the (eventual) hand-over of control of the old highway, now known as Pelmewash Parkway, from the province to the district.
The new highway made travel through Lake Country safer and gave the district seven kilometres of water-front property to develop.
But it also came at a time when many of the other roads built around Lake Country are nearing the end of their life, meaning there will have to be increased taxes over the next 20 years to deal with the aging roads in the area, including Pelmewash Parkway.
The transportation network, as well as the district’s water and sewage infrastructure plans, are paramount as Lake Country enters another year.
“We have lots to do and not enough money to do it with,” said Lake Country Mayor James Baker, in his third term in the mayor’s office.
“Our focus is on the transportation plan and sustainable transportation. We have been making some repairs and we have to fix what needs fixing immediately and leave alone what can be left alone.”
As the calendar opens on the year 2014, Lake Country council is in the process of implementing a transportation for tomorrow plan, looking 20 years down the road at ways to fix, improve or replace the district’s roadways.
Budget discussions are underway and a final budget is expected to be approved in early February, but the district is contemplating a tax hike to offset the costs of improving its infrastructure, including roads as well as the water system.
“All of those things that we are looking at, like our master water plan and sewer upgrades and the things we have to do with the roads, we have to have them paid for by the people that are the users of the system,” said Baker. “I think we’ve come a long way in that we have been able to do the planning as we would like to see things done.”
Baker says the lack of proper infrastructure in Lake Country is due to the rural nature of the district wards which, before Lake Country incorporated 19 years ago, were built to suit the small rural municipalities.
“The roads that we inherited when we incorporated were built to a different standard than we have now,” said Baker. “They were based on rural development so rural roads were put in place instead of urban roads. That’s why we don’t have a lot of gutters and sidewalks in some of our developments.”
In terms of the future of Pelmewash Parkway, which will become something of a jewel and a tourist attraction when complete, there is not enough money in the district coffers to tackle very much of anything in the immediate future. District council has a concept plan to move forward with but that’s about it.
Having the water-front parkway under their control but without a proper budget to take it to the next level is one of the struggles for Lake Country council.
“It is frustrating,” admitted Baker. “But we recognize we have to take care of the necessities and the things that make our community more livable and that we consider essential. We have to make sure we don’t go broke trying to provide all of those things and we aren’t anywhere near that but we don’t want to raise taxes till it breaks our taxpayers either.”
Another area the district will continue to focus on is Main street, which the municipality is hoping will be attractive for developers in the future.
In the meantime Baker says the district has several plans in place and is ready to move forward at a sustainable pace.
“I think we are in good shape,” he said. “We have plans in place that can provide for sustainable development and appropriate, innovative and creative development that will make this even a better place to live. It’s great right now but it can be even better.”