For Dawson City’s new mayor, Wayne Potoroka, city planning is all about using common sense.
The former city councillor earned a landslide victory over incumbent Peter Jenkins on Oct. 18. Potoroka captured 474 of the 658 votes cast, while Jenkins claimed 182.
“I had a sense that people were really engaged about the election this time around, and for me, the number that really counts is the number of people that showed up to vote,” said Potoroka, referencing the higher-than-usual voter turnout.
“I think people wanted to see a new approach and new blood in their municipal government.”
Jenkins sat at the city’s helm from 1980 to 1995. He served in territorial politics for 11 years. He was re-elected as mayor for this past term.
Potoroka took a new approach to meeting citizens. Along with meeting people at their homes, he also set up a campaign Facebook page.
He was hesitant to join the social networking site, he said. “Then I realized that a lot of Dawsonites are congregating online and getting information and sharing opinions, which is really important if you want to do a good job in municipal politics.” He hopes to continue to build the city’s online presence, he said.
During the campaign, Potoroka heard ideas about things he had not thought of before, like installing an outdoor basketball hoop in the town. But some issues remain unchanged.
Citizens are still concerned about the lack of housing in the Klondike town. And while the government doesn’t always have to be responsible for fixing the problem, the city needs to see if any private developers are interested in city lots, said Potoroka. The city can be doing much more than it is, he said.
Mayor and council need to communicate with staff about what they want to see done, and when they want results.
“That’s just strategic planning 101: set a direction, plot progress. That hasn’t really been happening and we need to do that,” he said.
“I don’t want to lose the people in town because they can’t find a place to live. For me, it’s a huge priority that our town stays vibrant and sustainable, and the only way we can do that is to make sure we’re doing all we possibly can to make this a place that people can live.”
Besides working with the territorial government to sign a land development protocol agreement, the city needs to change bylaws to encourage development. Right now, commercial buildings can be built downtown, but apartment buildings cannot, he said.
Unlike other municipalities, Dawson also does not have a development incentive policy, he said. It needs one. For example, the city could change bylaws to allow for garden suites, said Potoroka. If it did that, it could also possibly give people graduated tax relief for a certain period of time, he said. This could help create more rental and seasonal properties, said Potoroka.
The lack of adequate recreation facilities, particularly ice surfaces, remains a large concern. The current facility is partly built on an underground river and is sinking in some areas. The city needs to find out how much longer they can use the building so plans for a new centre can be made, he said.
And a plan needs to be made for managing waste.
The city needs to make sure it will be able to afford running the waste-water management plan, he said. And it needs to continue working with the Yukon government to sign a joint-use agreement for the landfill, he said. If they don’t, that facility may have to be expanded a lot sooner than originally anticipated. “I think returning to that common-sense planning, I think that would address several issues,” he said of the city’s need to plan for the future.
But he’s hesitant to criticize the outgoing mayor.
When Jenkins was elected last term, he replaced the big mayor’s desk with an oblong meeting table the mayor and council sat around, he said. He really appreciated that over the last few years, he said.
“He’s been in politics for 30 years,” he said. “You do not go through a political life that long without learning some lessons, and only a foolish person wouldn’t take the time to absorb some of them.”
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