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New Maple Ridge mayor lays it on the line

Seeking new school in Albion is one priority as ambitious list detailed
New Mayor Nicole Read listed goals and objectives at inaugural meeting Monday.

During the Nov. 15 election campaign, Nicole Read tried to win voters by saying it was time for a change in Maple Ridge.

After the ceremonial swearing in Monday, Read said she wants to change how the city grows, wants a new school in Albion, will seek council support to create her promised mayor’s task force on homelessness and will make it a priority to review the city’s economic development, planning and bylaws departments.

“Tonight, we’ll break with the past and forge a new direction for our city,” she told a packed council chambers in her inaugural speech.

The new mayor said the public has been clear in asking for more jobs in Maple Ridge and for a broader tax base, to give homeowners a break on constant property tax increases.

“This requires us to streamline our processes and cut red tape.”

“We will work hard towards this and report progress often.”

Read said she wants the support of both Liberal MLAs, Doug Bing and Marc Dalton, in trying to get a new elementary school built in Albion.

“I ask you to be ready when I contact you to bring that conversation forward with me,” she told the MLAs.

“Once we show leadership in the area of responsible development, we will be in a stronger position to begin that dialogue.”

Building a new school, though, is a costly and lengthy proposition.

School board chairperson Mike Murray said that two elementary schools that recently opened in Langley, each with capacity of 500 students, cost $13 million each.

Murray also said the provincial government would first have to review the local school district’s school facilities plan and decide whether it would provide the money for a new school.

And the board would have to find about $375,000 out of its budget to operate that new school.

He expects that once the school board’s facility review is in complete next year, the property the school district owns on 104th Avenue, east of 240th Street, still would be a favoured location.

But he didn’t want to guess how many years before a new school is actually built there.

“It’s really difficult for me to comment on the timing at this point.”

When it comes to the debate about how Maple Ridge will grow, the city’s official community plan “has lost its integrity,” Read said.

“A multitude of rezoning decisions have proceeded out of step with associated long-term costs,” frequently, with lots of opposition. She wants to rebuild trust between residents, many of them newly arrived, and developers proposing the latest suburb. She called for a responsible development charter, which would consider suburb applications “in the framework of long-term costs.”

She also wants to change how development occurs and require schools and parks to be built more quickly after a new suburb is built.

Transparency at city hall was also promised.

“I intend to report to you early and often and have already started a dialogue at city hall to achieve this,” Read said.

“Know that I will never get so comfortable in my role that I forget who hired me.”

She also promised to improve Maple Ridge’s transit services.

“It’s also unreasonable to ask the citizens of Maple Ridge to pay heavily into transit and transportation without an acceptable return on those dollars.”

Read wants to work with new Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker to achieve this.

With regard to her promised mayor’s task force on homelessness and addiction, a major part of her election campaign, Read said Maple Ridge could be regional leader on the issue.

She plans on creating that task force within 90 days, assuming council supports the idea.

“I want residents to feel safe in their homes, on our streets and in our parks, and I want our homeless citizens to feel embraced, supported and protected within our larger community.”

She thanked the outgoing council and welcomed new councillors Tyler Shymkiw and Kiersten Duncan, adding she hopes they’ll be quick to shed the term “new.”

She told Coun. Corisa Bell that she embodied the term transparency and was grateful “for this renewed dynamic that will better allow you to deliver the openness that you envision for residents.”

Similarly, she welcomed back Craig Speirs and Gordy Robson to council.

“I expect to call on your strategy and boldness often, especially as we explore solutions to homelessness and drug addiction in our community,” she told Robson.