Tony Zabinsky is one of 12 candidates vying for six seats on Fort St. John city council, and one of six new faces looking to upset an incumbent councillor.
Zabinsky is a retired banker active with the Chamber of Commerce, the Seniors Housing Society, and the Northern Lights College Foundation. Zabinsky is prioritizing financial discipline and municipal transparency, and wants to see the city spend less on land purchases and find a true solution to downtown development.
Alaska Highway News has sent out a questionnaire to all candidates in this year's election, asking them about their experience and priorities, what they think the city should be spending more or less money on, the city's greatest achievements and failures over the last four years, and the biggest challenge in the next four.
Responses are being published as they are received. The answers below have been edited for spelling and grammar only.
Name: Tony Zabinsky
Neighbourhood: Kin Park area
Occupation: Commercial banker, Scotiabank (presently retired)
1. Why did you decide to run for council?
I decided to run for city council because I believe this city has so much potential that is currently not being fully tapped into. Spending 20+ years in this city, I have a strong understanding as to the amazing opportunities that surrounds this community. I have witnessed upwards and downwards economies in addition to seeing firsthand how this city has evolved.
With the recent retirement from my position at the bank, I want to spend my extra time toward something I have a passion towards, this community. All we have in mind is the desire to want to make positive changes in our community. It is the people in this city that makes Fort St. John so special. Moving forward, I want to help lead Fort St. John into the future by providing opportunities to the people of this community as well as the business sector.
2. What experience and skills would you bring to council?
In terms of the type of experience and skills I would bring to city council, I have a strong, diverse background in the financial sector in addition to my leadership experience through various organizations and non-profit societies, such as Fort St. John & District Chamber of Commerce, North Peace Seniors Housing Society, Northern Lights College Foundation, and recently the BC 2020 Winter Games.
Since coming to this city over 20 years ago, my entire background has been surrounded in dealing with people and businesses. I have dealt with a vast array of different industries in Fort St. John and I understand the importance of working alongside people, business, and industry in this community, and I know what it takes to get things done.
3. What would be your top three priorities if elected, and why?
Financial Discipline: because we need to ensure that the city has a fiscal responsibility to the citizens in this city as well as businesses. We need to watch our spending and look at various avenues to increase our revenue streams. Selling brown spaces that are not being used so that we can earn more tax dollars. Spending within our means. Budget an expense to ensure that we stay on that budget and make sure that it benefits the community
Economic Development: because it creates the potential to bring businesses to the city, stimulate jobs, and enrich the community. Trade programs are going to be a major concern as this city moves forward. There is a shortage of tradespeople in the region to handle the growth that is potentially at our doorstep. We have to continue to work with the industry as well as institutions to ensure that we are ready to move forward.
Municipal Transparency & Community Consultation: because I believe in being open and accountable to the citizens of Fort St. John. I would like us to host more open discussions with the public and businesses to better understand their concerns and invite any solutions that they bring. My mission is to have the people of Fort St. John and the city to be on the same page in order achieve sustainable smart growth.
4. What programs or services should the city spend more on?
Capital purchases are items you can touch. It's buildings, roads, sewer lines, and equipment and other assets. I believe the city needs to have a continued focus on our roads. We use them every day and rely on them to be accessible. We need to ensure that roads that are presently gravel get paved and ensure repaving is looked at on some of our worst roads on an economic formula.
5. What programs or services should the city spend less on?
As previously mentioned, based on the above capital items, I would recommend reduced spending in building and land purchases. There is a cost to maintaining these assets and if there is no formal strategy to develop these properties, they become an added capital expense with no formal revenue stream to our tax base.
6. Would you support raising taxes to support council priorities?
No. Through economic development and consultation, I believe we should be able to support city council priorities today and in the future. That being said, while we cannot undo the past, we can learn from it. In previous years, we were able to hold our tax mill rate during economic upturns and I feel we are coming into another economic upswing. We need to have a budgeting and consultation strategy with you, our voters and taxpayers, to keep you informed and get feedback moving forward on how to address these priorities.
7. What should the city do to attract new industry and business?
We need to ensure that the people of Fort St. John and the city are on the same page in order to achieve sustainable smart growth. The businesses and industries that are in the region are successful, we need to discuss with them why they came here, or the vision they had, and expand on those success models to other industries and businesses. We have to ensure we understand the new industry and business model first before we can win them over.
8. What should the city do to stimulate downtown investment?
I believe that in order to stimulate the downtown area we need to discuss why developers and businesses are not looking at that area presently. We have had numerous discussion with the existing downtown core businesses with various outcomes. The city has its downtown revitalization master plan that I feel we need to revisit, and discuss with developers and businesses the pros and cons of it. I know that process takes time and funding, but I’m not sure we have a true solution in place.
9. What's has been the city's greatest achievement over the last four years?
The city’s greatest achievement over the last four years was the new agreement signed with the provincial government called the Peace River Agreement, formerly Fair Share, which was signed May 29, 2015. This agreement does not have any ties to the industry tax base but will provide consistent funding for 25 years. When you review the city’s revenue budget, this agreement represented 29.7% of their $87.2M revenue. These funds have been used on road work projects, water and sewer maintenance, park maintenance & building replacements. Without these funds, our property taxes would have had a dramatic jump. With the expected economic growth in the area, we need to be ready to renegotiate this when it comes up in 2023.
10. What's has been the city's greatest failure over the last four years?
The city’s biggest failure was not deepening its relationship and leveraging ability with BC Hydro over the Site C dam in terms of compensation. Being right in our back yard, Fort St. John received little compensation from BC Hydro during the Site C negotiations and construction. I would have liked to have seen a better employment contract that ensured a certain percentage of local skill was being utilized and that they provided monthly reporting of the per cent of local employees on site. Even to this day, BC Hydro has indicated they are unable to prepare a report that indicates the local employment at the site by local residents.
11. What's the biggest opportunity facing the city over the next four years?
The biggest opportunity facing the city over the next four years would be the development of LNG in the Peace Region. With the recent final investment decision by LNG Canada, the opportunity for the city and region will not only be for four years, but rather for a legacy of 40+ years. It is how we approach that legacy and properly prepare for it that will create the economic stimulus that this city needs.
12. What's the toughest challenge facing the city over the next four years?
The toughest challenge we are going to face over the next four years will be adapting to the industry once the industry moves forward. When the community grows, there will be a growing demand for professionals within the city. Ensuring that we have the resources available to attract and retain professionals in this community will be a challenge and that will only come by a sustained proactive marketing initiative to do so.
Finish this sentence: When I'm not deep in thought about city politics and civic issues, I'm…
... immersed in outdoor events, such as camping, river boating, golfing and just getting out and talking to people. Some say I talk too much.
What's the last book you read?
The Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club: The Official Centennial Publication
What's the last movie you watched?
My wife and I went to see Mamma Mia, Here We Go Again. Big fan of ABBA.
The best thing about Fort St. John that people don’t know about is…
The community generosity within this city. The number of volunteer groups that support our community on a shoe string budget, and do it day in and day out because they care.
If you weren't living in Fort St. John, where would you be?
We all love to get away from our long winters, but my wife and I love it here. All our kids have moved on but they know they call Fort St. John home were they still all have their own bedroom to come and stay and call home.
Want to know more about Tony Zabinsky? He can be reached by phone at 250-787-7202, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Connect with Zabinsky on Facebook at facebook.com/tonyzabinskycitycouncil.
Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at email@example.com.