Seeking a third term in office, Mayor James Baker is a familiar name for Lake Country residents. After six years leading council those who follow local politics will likely have formed their own opinions on his tenure. In an interview last week Baker provided some insight into the decision making process that he follows as an elected representative.
Baker says that as the leader at the municipal hall he strives to operate local government as a not-for-profit business. He says following best business practices when it comes to tendering contracts ensures that taxpayers always get the best services for the least cost.
At the same time Baker says the financial costs of projects are not the only consideration for council to look at.
“Everything is triple bottom line,” says Baker. “I’m just one voice on council but we look at the economic, social and environmental impacts that our decisions will have. I believe if we plan for the social and environmental aspects, then the economic will follow because people will want to come here.”
Baker points to the success of the Lake Country Art Gallery as an example a social amenity that draws economic benefits to the community.
Baker says one of his biggest strengths as a mayor is the political network he’s built up over his career.
“I have strong relationships with both the federal and provincial governments, neighbouring municipalities, the Okanagan Indian Band and UBC-O,” says Baker.
His association with UBC-O has helped to secure studies in the community carried out at now cost to the District by grad students at the school.
He says he’s also helped to bring in over $10 million in grant money during his terms as Mayor—cash that he says was used to hire consultants to complete studies at no expense to tax payers.
Baker would like to see the town centre developed but says that real estate is priced so high on Main Street that developers are not interested.
“What can we do? We can’t force the landowners to sell their property,” says Baker.
When asked about the municipality providing incentives for developers Baker said he is philosophically opposed to such an idea explaining that ultimately any incentive offered would have to be expensed to taxpayers. He added that he’s not interested in cutting deals with developers just to get something built on Main Street as quickly as possible. In the long run it is more beneficial to have planned and managed development in the town centre he said.
Baker says council has recognized the work of volunteers in the community over the past six years and says he would continue to do so. He cited council’s consideration of the various municipal committees, the partnership with the Lakes residents in building Apex Park, funding for the art gallery and museum, and capital grants for the community halls as examples of past support for volunteer labour.