Mayor’s task force in for the long term

Trying to be a catalyst for change, says chair Mark Dickinson

The chair of Sidney’s Mayor’s Task Force on Downtown Revitalization says any charge that the group is playing politics is simply not the case.

Mark Dickinson, who was named chair of the task force by Mayor Larry Cross, told the PNR the group is certainly aware that the next municipal election is coming up in November — but have taken up a strong apolitical position.

“We have been tasked with a job,” he said. “We will not allow ourselves to become bogged down in the politics of Sidney.”

The PNR reported and some critics of the task force pointed out that some of the recommendations announced earlier this month are either already in the works within the municipality, or are already in place. That gave rise to questions on why the task force would repeat them and whether they endorse the work of the current town council.

“We are staying so far away from politics,” Dickinson explained.

He said it’s good to be held to account on their recommendations, but said there’s a reason the task force included Town-driven actions on their list.

“We felt it was important to (include them) on our list to make sure there’s some conclusion. We don’t want to lose track of (those actions).”

It’s one thing for the Town to commit to such things as increased signage, to explore taxation rates and increasing residential density, he said, it’s another to follow through.

Some of those same ideas were raised at the task force level, Dickinson continued. They group felt it was important not to disregard that input.

He added that while the task force was established by the current mayor, he hopes they will continue long past the November election.

“Our horizon goes out a long way.”

With plans to take a summer break in August, Dickinson said the task force members will return to continue their work. It has culminated thus far in data collection and prioritizing recommendations into quick-hitters for the Town. Their list of ideas has grown to more than 90, he said, noting there’s still more information to come.

The Town is compiling a larger-than-expected collection of shopper surveys. They have also mailed out surveys to business owners, operators and property owners in the downtown core.

That means, Dickinson said, that the first phase of the task force is not quite done.

“That process is going to go on but don’t expect much big change,” he said. “We’ve got the big chunk of what’s to be said already in hand.”

On top of the 16 initial recommendations to the Town, Dickinson said the task force handed over many others to the Saanich Peninsula chamber of Commerce and Sidney Business Improvement Association. Those ideas, he said, appeared more suited to those groups for action or further debate.

“I’d be very surprised if they don’t take those ideas in hand and move along with them,” Dickinson said. “We are trying to be a catalyst for change.”

Dickinson credits the energy and hard work of the task force members for such good work thus far.

“Ultimately, we will develop a handful of options for the Town, for various agencies to implement. That will be a success for the task force.”

Dickinson said the recommendations they are developing now will help create a road map for Sidney, covering the next 15 to 25 years.