Fernie’s City Hall has been active in the recent months, initiating and supporting policies and programs that will affect Fernie residents.
This week, The Free Press sat down with Mayor Mary Giuliano to get an update on issues important to the community, including off-leash dogs, the search for a new surgeon, City Hall’s communication channels and assistance for senior and disabled residents, among other things.
The issue of off-leash dogs was prominent in January, after an off-leash dog knocked down a Fernie resident in the downtown core. This enticed City Hall to enforce stricter bylaws when it comes to off-leash dogs.
“In 2014 a bylaw was put in place that spelled out what people should be doing. And so we thought that might take care of things, but over the last year and a half, we have been getting steady complaints from people,” said Giuliano. “According to what we are told, these people that have dogs off leash usually laugh and say oh they’re just friendly. But now it’s not fair because seniors are saying we don’t feel safe so we can’t walk, and the town is for everybody.”
The City has maintained an “education first” policy regarding bylaw enforcement.
“Our policy was always education. Ticketing for warning tickets because we are a resort town, a lot of these people are visitors. A lot of them are not residents that have these dogs. They’re not aware of the bylaws,” said Giuliano. “We just felt we have reached a point now where we had to be stronger, we had to enforce. So we said we are going to do enforcement so now there is not going to be the warning tickets. There is going to be a fine.”
It is a $50 fine for an off-leash dog in the City.
The City of Fernie is teaming up with other local governments to help recruit a new surgeon to the area. The idea of not having a surgeon, after Dr. Nally retires, at the Elk Valley Hospital was not comforting to Giuliano,
“There was concern about replacement and closure of the operating room if there is no replacement,” she said. “I have always been an advocate of having an operating room in a hospital because if that operating room goes, there will be a domino effect. There will be no maternity services; that will cut back on all of the other services like lab and x-ray; nurses will lose jobs because there are no doctors. Doctors will leave. I’m really worried that domino effect will turn our hospital into just a health centre like Sparwood.”
Giuliano said it’s vital to have a hospital in the area, as there are five operating mines and a ski resort in the area.
“We have outdoor sports like mountain biking, the rafting, the fishing and all of the other sports that go along with it. We have people here all the time. If you are a visitor contemplating coming to this area, would you feel safe if you found out that the nearest hospital was an hour away with the roads we have from here to Cranbrook?”
The local governments, including the District of Elkford, the District of Sparwood and RDEK Electoral A, along with the City of Fernie have all committed $10,000 to fund the recruitment of a new surgeon to replace Dr. Nally when he retires. The Elk Valley Hospital Foundation has also contributed to the fund.
“The thing is that we all felt that we needed to show support and confidence towards the medical professionals here in Fernie and towards our hospital and this is why we are doing it. They were all in agreement,” said Giuliano.
The Mayor spoke positively about the City’s commitment to senior and disabled residents. The City has a program wherein city crews will help elderly and disabled residents clear the windrows from their residences.
“I felt that there is a lot of seniors like single ladies and older gentlemen that were living alone that don’t have the physical power to clean the windrows,” said Giuliano. “I brought forward to council and said this isn’t right, this isn’t fair, we should provide windrow clearing for seniors and it took several meetings before we finally agreed to it.”
Senior and disabled residents can apply to have crews come to help them with windrows and with moving heavy objects.
“Every spring, it has been advertised that they will come and they will pick up clean-ups, if you have big items that you want to get rid of, they will take them away for you,” said Giuliano.
Giuliano is also proud of the City’s efforts to take over the Senior Centre and ensuring that it continues to operate.
“The Seniors Centre, the building is ours but the group that is in there now, Jim and Alice Booth, who are the co-chairs of the seniors group. They are the ones that went out looking for grants and totally had that building remodeled,” said Giuliano. “Right now, because of their work, that building is busy all the time. They’ve got programs for the seniors. They play cards, they play shuffleboard, they’ve got yoga, and they’ve got socials. All of a sudden, these people have a life. Once Alice and Jim give it up, what is going to happen to that programming?”
The City is hoping to take over and maintain the programming at the Seniors Centre and Giuliano cites it as a critical service to seniors.
“I just feel that the seniors deserve this because they are the ones that have worked and contributed to the City of Fernie. They are a part of the history. I really support this, and I hope that council will support so the seniors will have some place that they know will always be there.”
The City has multiple communication channels open to inform the public of its activity. However, Giuliano herself is partial to one particular method.
“I’m really using Facebook a lot. It is a really good way to interact with people. I will put whatever I think is pertinent,” she said.
Giuliano prides herself on being approachable, something that has been fundamental to her political career.
“Anybody that wants to contact me can contact me. I think most of the councillors, if not all, are the same way. I always have done that – as soon as I started council, I just said, I will return every call and I will return every email,” she said. “The City of Fernie and every municipality, the business is service, that is all we provide is service. So that has to be a part of your mandate, you have to give that service of giving your attention and listening to people. If you can’t do that, then you shouldn’t be here.”