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Meet Bowen Island Municipality's chief financial officer: Sheila McCutcheon

Bowen Island Municipality’s Sheila McCutcheon has more than 20 years’ experience in the public sector and is no stranger to small town living
Sheila McCutcheon
Sheila McCutcheon joined Bowen Island Municipality in late summer, coming to the island after decades in Northern B.C.

Sheila McCutcheon started work at 8:30 a.m. Aug. 23, mere hours after arriving on Bowen Island. Island living may be new for Bowen Island Municipality’s chief financial officer (CFO) but neither the title nor small town life are unfamiliar to McCutcheon. 

Born and raised in Prince George, McCutcheon spent some of her early career in the temperate south, working as an accountant for a Toyota dealership. It was in her decade in the Lower Mainland that McCutcheon spent considerable time skiing, hiking and exploring the Sea to Sky region and even visited Bowen Island for some cycling.  

But, the coastal winters weren’t to last. McCutcheon’s working life since has been in and around Northern B.C. communities, working in the public sector. 

For more than a decade, McCutcheon worked for the College of New Caledonia overseeing finances for community and continuing education, international education and Aboriginal support services. About nine years ago, McCutcheon was working in Mackenzie overseeing finances for the satellite college, when it was time for a change.

The district municipality of 3,700 people wedged between the western edge of the Rocky Mountains and Williston Lake – known for timber and pulp – was also experiencing the effects of the economic downturn. “It was exciting to be part of the District of Mackenzie…being part of a team that saw the rebuilding of Mackenzie,” she said. “I was part of high-functioning team of managers [who] cared about the community – that’s the biggest thing is you’ve got to care about the community – and wanted to see that recovery happen.”

“The biggest thing was the loss of major industry,” she said. The area had lost a sawmill and a pulp mill. “And then to develop revitalization tax exemption programs in order to see that major industry get back up on its feet…using the local government tools to be able to help support the recovery of the economy.

“To see how the strong advocacy at the mayor and council level to also intervene and how that whole system works together, no matter what part of the team you are.

“Whether it’s governance or administration, just working together for the entire community.”

McCutcheon stayed with the District of Mackenzie for five years before moving on. She’d go on to take on CFO roles in Cache Creek and Vanderhoof and a CAO role in McBride between 2018 and 2020. Now McCutcheon comes to Bowen following a devastating pandemic and with the young municipality in the midst of the biggest capital projects it has ever seen.

“It’s an exciting time to be living and working on Bowen Island with all the new capital projects and the community hall,” she said. 

“My role is really one of stewardship,” she said. “There are lots of challenges in local government. 

“I bring a scope of experience, especially with smaller communities, to help navigate some of those challenges.”

But, there are specific challenges for each local government. “No two communities seem to be the same,” she said. “Whether it’s a resource-based community like Mackenzie or Bowen Island that’s much more a lifestyle community and tourist-based.”

She noted the curve on learning the internal operations, the committee workings and council’s strategic priorities. There’s also familiarizing herself with the capital projects for 2021. “We had a very ambitious capital budget for 2021 and it’s great to see that the majority of the projects are in progress.” 

And becoming familiar with grant opportunities and successes – “It’s very impressive the degree of infrastructure grants Bowen Island has been successful with.

“I’m just excited to be here,” she said. “It’s a new adventure, a new work experience. 

“It is fast-paced and there’s always something new to work on or learn about and attending council and community meetings is one of my most favourite parts of my role.”