Monday, April 30, 2007
I made a note of the open house that the province is holding to review the functional sudy of the "South West Road". I thought I should post a picture of the alignment that the City is suggesting.
I received this note from our public works department today.
"FYI – Administration has gone on record (both by formal letter and officially noted at the meetings), to say that we believe that the best alignment for this Resource Road is to go as directly south of the Highway #43 Bypass as possible, with a second Bridge Crossing across the Wapiti River, rather than creating an east-west road that parallels the existing Correction Line."
From what I understand this suggestion still isn't being considered by the folks running the study, because they don't consider it to be a part of the terms of reference of the study.
Here's the reasons I think it should be considered:
1. Provides a 2nd bridge across the Wapiti. There's lots of heavy traffic on that thing and safety is a big concern, a second bridge is going to be needed eventually and having these two appart would reduce the amount of traffic on highway 40 north of the river.
2. Protects the sensitive Wapiti Nortdic Ski trails. I mentioned that in the previos post.
If you agree with me make sure you make it out to the open house. If they don't talk about this idea - bring it up.
What:Southwest Resource Road Functional Planning Study
When:Thursday, May 3rd - from 4:00 to 8:00pm
Where:Holiday Inn (9816 - 107th Street) Grande Prairie
Friday, April 27, 2007
You'll have to find your own soundtrack but I've got the video fly through that was presented at the openhouse. When the overhead view that starts the clip pauses look at the Coca-Cola Centre on the right and St. Joes on the left. They look pretty small compared to the new building in between them and the Gymnastics Centre.
So, the price tag - if we go to tender late this year or early 08 is extimated to be about $100M.
I have previous posts on the facility here and here.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
"On-Campus Housing Increased by 110 bedrooms: Official Opening Ceremonies Today
The official opening of Phase IV of the Student Village residence complex at Grande Prairie Regional College today means that a total of 369 students will have on-campus housing when they start classes in September 2007.
Phase IV has added 110 beds, including six bedrooms in suites which are wheelchair accessible, plus housing offices, mailroom and laundry room. The units will be fully completed by the end of June, and all spaces are already allocated to students enrolled for the Fall semester at GPRC.
"The Board of Governors is committed to removing barriers to post-secondary education for students of our region," says Chair Fletcher Bootle. "We recognize that finding suitable accommodation is a challenge for many students, and we are very pleased to have been able to add on-campus housing spaces regularly over the past several years."
Construction on Phase IV began last summer, adding to the series of townhouse-style units which has been steadily growing since 2001, complementing the Anderson Hall residence which was opened in 1983. All units are fully furnished, providing private bedrooms and shared bathroom, kitchen and living room.
Meeting the need for housing for students with families is another priority which GPRC is addressing this year. Five of the free-standing townhouse units at Anderson Hall will be converted to family housing, and available for occupancy September 1st 2007. The housing committee will place five of the more than 25 which have completed application documents in the family housing units, based upon need.
Meanwhile, on-campus housing will be bustling all summer with guests such as conference delegates, students from across the country coming to Grande Prairie for summer jobs, young athletes in our community to train in their sports, and GPRC students who are staying in their units over the summer due to employment in the community.
Grande Prairie Regional College, its students and their families, and the communities it serves are all delighted to declare Phase IV Student Village officially open.
Grande Prairie Regional College"
Here are some pics from the proposed Aquatics Centre & Field House at the Community Knowledge Campus. The cost of the "full meal deal" that you see represented here is estimated at about $102M. So, what do you think?
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
I just got back from another council dinner meeting, pretty much the same as the one with Dawson Creek that I posted on before. This time it was with another council from the BC Peace; Fort St. John.
The last time we visited with the folks from 'The Fort' was way back in my first term. Both councils have been through elections since then so again, as with Dawson, it was good to meet the new folks. One of the new council members is Bruce Christensen who I've met many times through Rotaract, when he was District Governor Bruce.
I know it's kind of the wrong order to tell the story back to front, but when I left the meeting I have to admit that I had a little bit of a sinking feeling. It was another one of those meetings where I kind of get the sense that we are slipping behind. Let me tell you what's going on in Fort St. John, see if you get the same feeling.
They are building a new multipurpose recreation centre, the Enerplex . The Enerplex is a $36M twin ice arena with a olympic sized speed skating oval on the second level and a running/walking track on the third level.
This year they are putting $19M into roads and have just finished a major multi-year renovation to the city hall for about $3.5M. A couple of the things that passed by quickly in the conversation but were impressive none the less were the work that they'll be doing on a new RCMP detachment & a new Visitor Center.
They are even working on a walking trail system that will connect across the community.
Oh, and they are lowering residential property taxes!
Sounds great and it is, but the question is how are they doing it all?
Well, they are getting regular basic grants from the BC government, in fact they even got $1M to build the trail system. But the big difference is the Fair Share Program that I mentioned in the post on Dawson Creek.
It's a program that the B.C. government started up just for for communities in the North East. Basically the BC government gives a special grant to put some of the provincial revenue from oil and gas back in to the communities where the work is being done. That's a real simplification but you get the point.
I asked what Fort St. John's installment is this year - it's $10M. They figure that over the next ten or fifteen years they'll see over $200M.
To put that in perspective, with all the big announcements that the AB government has made recently about new money for municipalities Grande Prairie has received what? - an additional $4.5M this year.
It's great to hear that things are going well there and that they are growing. What's good for Fort St. John is good for Grande Prairie, I really believe that. I also believe that the Alberta advantage is still slipping.
I'm glad we got together with the folks from 'the Fort'.
Ken Anderson, the city's Financial Services Director (Treasuer), sent a email note to council early today in an attempt to clarify what we know so far. Here's his note:
"The Province did make further announcements this week regarding funding for municipalities. It is a bit confusing and we will learn further details within the next couple of weeks. This is what we understand:
The overall $400 million to municipalities is broken down into the following categories:
$250 for capital projects
·Core capital (roads, transit, emergency vehicles, etc.) - $125 million. At least 20% planned and implemented with neighbouring municipalities.
·Community capital (libraries, recreation facilities, etc.) - $75 million. At least 50% planned and implemented with neighbouring municipalities.
·Coordination incentives (jointly planned with other municipalities) - $50 million.
$100 million for affordable housing
$50 million for conditional grants
(mainly land use projects that will facilitate coordination between municipalities)
$2.8 million for affordable housing over three years.
Ability to apply to allocation of additional $68 million for substantial needs.
$4.5 million allocation for 2007.
This is the city share of the $400 million identified above. This includes the allocation for affordable housing identified immediately above.
We have new funding for 2007 in the amount of $4.5 million. This has been compartmentalized into various project types some of which require planning and implementation with neighbouring municipalities.
The allocation announced at the Coca-Cola Centre on Monday is a separate program funded by Gaming over two years. The city is eligible to apply to an annual amount of $35 million for each of two years that has been allocated to mid-sized cities."
Ken's note really helped cut through the hype and get to what it all means for our city. Ken also mentions the other areas that GP could see more new money coming to GP - The $35M from gaming that (MCFP) I posted on before and the $68M for Affordable Housing. But for both of those we have to apply and compete against other municipalities accross the province.
The Daily Hearld Tribune covered it this way:
"New housing funds doled
GP gets $7.3M from province to address local projects
A $7.3-million share of new funding from the province should help Grande Prairie address some of its needs.
"The provincial budget has done a very good job of acknowledging the plight of local governments who do not have sufficient revenues to fund the infrastructure and community capacity-building needs of their citizens," said Mayor Wayne Ayling.
In a press conference Tuesday, Premier Ed Stelmach and Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Ray Danyluk announced the details of new cash for municipalities that was announced in last week's budget.
Of $400 million destined for communities, Grande Prairie will see just under $4.5 million come its way for various capital building projects ranging from affordable housing to sewers to libraries.
Along with the capital cash, the government will also disburse $285 million for housing and homeless projects. Grande Prairie, cited as a high-growth centre with a tighter housing crunch than many areas, will pick up $2.8 million this year from the new fund."
... full story
If you want to read the full details from the province for yourself they are here for the $2.8M housing funds and here for the $4.5M for municipalities. Both of these also show you what other Cities, Towns, M.D.s and Counties got.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
When:Thursday, May 3rd - from 4:00 to 8:00pm
Where:Holiday Inn (9816 - 107th Street) Grande Prairie
Why: The province has been planning what is essentially a southwest bypass route for the city. It will go from highway 43 south and connect with highway 40. It has been mentioned in the media and many residents have raised concerns about the possible destruction of the Wapiti Nordic Ski trails. This is everyone's chance to make sure that the planning of this bypass route takes into account the need to protect this sensitive natural area and communit asset.
Last time we saw the new Minister of Infrastructure I told him about the concerns and asked him to take these into account. The City's 50 year growth plan actually suggests intersection at the same point on highway 43 but going straight south accross the river with a new bridge instead of bending back to meet highway 40. That little bidge already sees too much traffic adding an additional one only makes sense.
So, pass it on to anyone you know who might be interested and get out there on May 3rd!
Monday, April 23, 2007
Come out to the Aquatics Centre Open House
Interested in the plan for Grande Prairie's new Aquatics Centre? Come to the open house on Thursday.
My Comment:As soon as the city media release is up on the site I'll link to it so you have the details. Mark it in your calender, you'll want to see the architect's presentation of what this thing is going to be like. I think you'll be pleased.
Talisman Roof Repair Could Cost $25M
Calgary City Council has approved moving ahead with roof repairs at the Talisman Centre. The $25M project wouldn't happen till 2010.
My Comment: Locally, some had been pushing for the new aquatics centre to have this type of roof - I think I'm glad we didn't go that way.
Municipal Election Race Starts in Edmonton
daveberta has an article on the start of the race for Edmonton's Ward 4 council seat. The comments on the story also mention that long time councillor Michael Phair isn't running again.
My Comment: Here comes the season! No one in our area has made a formal announcement yet but it's only 6 months until the election.
- $140M per year, divided between four regions in the province: Calgary, Edmonton (and capital region), other cities and rural.
- Maximum Grant amount is $10M.
- Grants under $500 000 must contribute matching dollars, provincial funding cannot be more than 50% of the project cost.
- Grants over $500 000 must have 2/3 funding from the applicant.
From there its pretty much your usual grant program.
So, that means that GP has a $35M "pot of money" to apply for this year and again next year. We won't be competing against Edm. & Calgary but we will have to vie with the likes of Red Deer, Lethbridge, and Med Hat.
Interesting that Edmonton and Capital region is its own region. I wonder if that means that St. Albert, Spruce Grove and Strathcona County are in that pot.
Of note the minister referenced the Coca-Cola Center as the type of facility that would be applying for funds.
He also recognized Mayor Ayling and said that He looked forward receiving an application from GP.
The application forms won't be up for a week. I know city staff will be looking to download them as soon as possible.
Looks like good news.
The Minister has just wrapped up a little question and answer session and them media are scrumbing. (That may not be a word)
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Hector Goudreau, Minister of Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture is in GP tomorrow morning at 11:00am to announce the details of the Major Community Facilities Program. The invitation to the media launch describes the basics of the program:
"This lottery-funded grant program will assist non-profit organizations and municipalities with planning, upgrading or building major sports, recreational, cultural or other related family and community wellness facilities."
The provincial budget website says the program will be funded to the tune of $280M over two years.
The Minister is making the announcement in the Coca -Cola Centre, which is the twin ice arena component of the Community Knowledge Campus (CKC). As home to St. Joseph's High School, the Gymnastics Centre, the twin rinks and the future site of the proposed Aquatics Centre and Field House the CKC certainly qualifies as a "major sports, recreational, cultural or other related family and community wellness facility".
Is the Minister choosing this location to host the media launch a good omen for the future of the Aquatics Centre and Field House?
We can certainly hope.
I'll try to post as soon as I can after the announcement.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Comment on Alberta's 07 Budget
Ken Chapman looks at the new budget and sees the influence of Stelmach, Hancock & Oberg.
My Comment: Ken has some insightful posts on his blog and this is another one but it's also interesting to read the comments on this post, not everyone agrees with Ken's analysis.
Medicine Hat No Longer the Gas CIty?
The City of Medicine Hat has had it's own natural gas utility company for years, the gas fields are set to run dry soon and that may mean big changes that residents will not be happy about.
story & video
My Comment: One former GP council member said to me that we had an opportunity to set up the same thing waaaaay back and didn't take it. Looking back he said it was one of the biggest mistakes council has ever made. Well, at least we aren't in for the shock that Med Hatters could be.
Edmonton Looks at a New Downtown Arena to cost $400M?
Edmonton city council is at the very begining stages of considering a new downtown arena development that could host the Oilers.
My Comment:It's kind of unfortunate that right after the province announces new money for cities in the budget this comes out - it won't help the public perception that cities are only building the luxury items and "nice-to-haves". Related post: Related Post:Medicine Hat's plan to build a $90M areana for the WHL Tigers.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
If you're looking for some great comment on politics in Canada and the future of our country check them out. I've added the badge and link in Worthwhile Blogs and you can find out more about Progressive Bloggers here .
April 19th is a big day for a lot of people.
Today is the day that we get our first provincial budget from Premier Stelmach. It's an important day for all the players at the Legislature, including the Kevin Taft Liberals who will be looking to see if it provides them any fodder for the expected 2008 election.
It's going to be a big day for municipalities in the province as well. With cities and towns bursting at the seams and starting to look a little threadbare (I'm not too sure if the two go together, but if you live in an Alberta city you know what I mean) they are all hoping for something to come their way.
Grande Prairie is no different, we have a number of city projects that need provincial dollars, or even just their own projects that we'd like to province to commit to doing. Our region got a peek "under the wrapping paper" last week when Stelmach let it slip that the budget had money for a new hospital here.
I hope there's lots of cash in the budget for us - who wouldn't?
If the provincial government opened up the treasure chest and started tossing us all the gold coins we wanted, what would happen? There's an issue related to the treasure chest that needs more attention than it's been getting: capacity. Even if we had all the cash, I'm not sure that the Alberta labour force has the capacity to do all the construction, repair and maintenance that we want, that goes for the Grande Prairie region as well.
Think about that new hospital - the last price tag I heard on it was about $300M. That's a big project, its going to suck up a lot of the construction and trades labour force in the region. So what happens when we go to construct the $50M swimming pool? Will any of the companies have the man power to do both? Will cost of the project go up because companies have to bid high so they can pay more to attract more workers? Or will no one bid?
Last year the city of Grande Prairie had $15M in roadwork that didn't get done. It's not because there was no money - Council and staff budgeted for it.
It's because there wasn't enough capacity with contractors to get it all done. They were doing work for us, working for the private sector, and working for the province and they simply ran out of people, machines and product.
So, today as Premier Stelmach takes his turn opening the chest and presiding over Alberta's booty I hope he throws a few doubloons our way. But, I'm not naive enough to think it's going to solve all our problems and I know that it could well create some new ones.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Scott McKeen with the Edmonton Journal had a great column yesterday.
He examines that issue that seems to be a staple of the Letters to the Editor page - property taxes. Scott looks at what the City of Edmonton pays for with the property taxes it collects and makes some great comparisons between the ways in which city, provincial and federal governments do their budgets.
One of my favourite excerpts:
... The high-cost items at city hall are in the police service and transportation department. Cut parks or pools or social services? Sure, but you'll save pennies not dollars.
It's definitely worth a read, he is afterall a real writer.
Strangely enough though I just wrote an assignment for a course I'm taking through the U of A. It shows that the situation is no different in GP than it is in Edmonton. The assignment was:
Financial statements can tell us a great deal about the financial state of an organization. Please review the financial statements of your municipality and briefly discuss the following:
1) What are the assets owned and liabilities owed by your municipality?
2) Where does the money come from and where does it go?
3) Based on this information, what does the future look like for your municipality?
Questions number 2 and 3 are pretty much the heart of Scott's article. So, what was my answer for those two?
The city’s $87.6 million in Revenue comes from;
Municipal Property Taxes ($34M)
User Fees & Sales of Goods ($11.5M)
Government Transfers ($14.2M)
Franchise & Concession Contracts ($4.3M)
Fines, Rentals, Licenses & Permits ($5.3M)
Interest & Investment Income ($1.2M)
Development Levies ($3.7M)
Transfers from Local Boards & Agencies ($5.4M)
Penalties & Cost of Taxes ($330k)
Proceeds on Disposal of Capital Assets ($7k)
Expenditures occur in nine areas;
Transportation Services ($25M)
Protective Services ($21.8M)
Recreation & Cultural Services ($20.5M)
Administrative Services ($8M)
Planning & Development Services ($2.6M)
Public Health & Welfare Services ($1M)
Council & Legislative Services ($744k)
Utilities & Disposal Services ($11k)
The most basic thing that stands out about these numbers is this: the municipality is not sustainable if it must rely on property tax as it’s main source of revenue. The $34M in revenue from property taxes is insufficient to pay for the expenditures of Transportation Services and Protective Services at $46.8M combined. The picture becomes even more foreboding when taking into account the rapid population growth of the city, high inflation in the Alberta economy and the demands of the public for increased services and new facilities.
Ok, before someone takes out the calculator ... I know, the numbers don't exactly line up. A lot of that is from the "$5.4M in Transfers from Local Boards" ... that line item basically reflects the value of the Gymnastics facility. After the Gymniks built it they turned it over to the city. It's now owned by the City of GP, so there's no actual cash there, just an asset. The rest of the difference is just my rounding off to the nearest $100 000.
I know what you're thinking "Bill, get on with it!"
Ok, ok ... Here's my point, in case it wasn't clear:
Municipal Property Taxes at $34 million don't pay for Transportation Services & Protective Services which come to $46.8M. It's the same here in Grande Prairie as it is in Edmonton. I'd be willing to bet that it's the same in every city across the province.
Monday, April 16, 2007
It sounds as though there were a few different influencing factors but lack of available space to run the program is specifically mentioned.
I think this goes to show that if you don't have the space (or enough time) available the community looses things one by one because of that lack of capacity.
Here's the media release:
April 16, 2007
GPRC Cuts its Wolves Swim Program
GPRC Wolves Athletics announces, with regret, that it is terminating its swim program. As a result, GPRC will no longer participate in the Swim Program of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Association (ACAC) effective immediately.
The Wolves Swim Program has operated in a partnership with the G.P. Piranhas Swim Club since 1996 and the program has produced some outstanding performances.
"The decision to terminate the program has been difficult," noted Leigh Goldie, Chair of the Department of PEAK. "We have seen some great successes, and know that in large part this success is due to the training done by the swimmers with the Piranhas Swim Club," Goldie added.
A review which was recently conducted has revealed that the number of
swimmers who participate exclusively through Wolves Athletics has diminished dramatically over the years. Wolves Swimming successes, of late, have been largely realized by Piranhas swimmers who attend GPRC.
The review has also identified concern with pressure on available facilities. Current available pool time cannot handle the demands of all the aquatic clubs. This factor limits any possible growth of the Wolves Swim Program as it is reliant on time available to the Piranhas Swim Club.
Another significant factor is the trend being experienced in the ACAC Swim Program. The number of colleges participating has diminished over the years and there is no indication that this trend will change. The fact that it is a one semester sport with no national championship further justifies the decision to opt out now.
GPRC Wolves Athletics is very appreciative of the partnership it has had with the G.P. Piranhas Swim Club. Their involvement has been key to the successes of the Wolves Swim Program. We wish the Piranhas continued success with their program.
For more information, please contact:
So, as I said there were lots of factors that went into the decision.
The meeting I'm about to go into at 2pm is looking at awarding the construction tender for the new Cultural Centre and I'm supporting moving ahead with it - I don't want to see our community atrophy because we don't have the capacity our residents are looking for.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
The best part of their blog is that there are lot's of pictures of Mason and very few of Chris. ; )
I'm adding them to the Worthwhile Blogs section right next to Wade.
It seems like GP welcomes new residents on a daily basis and one of the things that I've heard from people new to the city is that it doesn't seem like there's very much cultural diversity here. Now, it's a fact that immigrants tend to settle almost exclusively in Canada's largest cities like,Toronto, Montreal & Vancouver. Having said that, GP has always had some very strong cultural communities within the city and with our growth of late these communities are expanding and diversifying even more.
Olivia Kachman is the staff photographer with the Daily Herald Tribune. New to the city herself, she's been doing some amazing work that extends beyond the newsprint. If you look here she's put together some excellent, I'll call them: photoessays. They all feature some facet of GP life but it looks like she's been paying special attention to our cultural communities, which is great news.
Do yourself a favour and check them out. They're short, they load quickly and all include sound. I'd have to say that this is my favourite thing to come out of the new GP Ink paper.
... now all we need is a good Indian restaurant.
Friday, April 13, 2007
Amalgamation On The Way?
Residents in the Town of Lac La Biche and Lakeland County are going to vote on amalgamation.
My Comment: I'll read the docs and get back to you. Interesting that this is in the Minister of Municipal Affairs home consticuency.
New Hospital In The Budget For GP?
Premier Stelmach let it slip that there is money for a new Grande Prairie hospital in the budget.
My Comment: About time, it's gonna cost more than they think. (I would have linked to the DHT but sadly they haven't updated the site as of 4:30 Friday.
CanadaWest Foundation: Residents Feel Cities Have Enough Money
Survey of large western cities shows that the infrastructure deficit message isn't getting accross to the public.
My Comment:What?! Are you kidding me?! Obviously we aren't getting through to the public like we want to. Maybe they should read my post on the infrastructure deficit.
Liberal Municipal Affairs & Housing Critic Visits GP
MLA Dave Taylor, Liberal shadow minster for Municipal Affairs & Housing checks out the housing crunch in Grande Prairie.
My Comment:We had a chance to meet with Dave as a council & it was great to see him make the time to visit GP. I wish we had more MLAs making the trip.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Political salaries always make headlines and I can understand why. There aren't too many other jobs where a group of people get's to set their own pay scale - and it's with your money. So, no wonder it's a touchy subject.
All too often though, not all the facts come out when you hear about salaries in the media.
The Daily Hearld Tribune ran an article on the subject last week and then a follow up editorial on the 9th. I think both were pretty fair overall but still missed some of the picture because they only listed a few of our council's salaries (the highs and the lows) and no comparables to give people an idea of what is realistic or at least common.
So, here's our council's full list from 2005, the most recent I could find on the city's website:
W. Ayling $84,103
G. Blackmore $25,330
J. Croken $31,706
C. Eckhardt $29,603
B. Given $23,771
M. Heath $26,853
D. Logan $23,623
G. Mazer $23,626
H. Rice $24,863
I've given the totals which include the base salaries as well as any per diems, benefits, confrence fees, travel expenses ect. The department of Municipal Affiars requires all municipalities to record them the same way.
Here's the same 2005 list from the County of Grande Prairie's newsletter:
E. McDonald $73,613
K. Balderston $63,017
L. Beaupre $71,648
J. O’Toole $75,711
P. Jacobs $63,779
D. Longson $67,859
B. Smith $72,388
R. Harpe $77,503
M. Eckstrom $54,456
So, there you go... the power of the internet huh? Now you've got all the details.
Since then the whole thing has come down.
You can see updated pictures here and read the pdf media release here.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
You may not have heard the word Rurban before. It's a combination of Rural and urban and it's defined as: combining aspects of both rural and urban or suburban life.
If you weren't familiar with it get ready to hear this word more often in Alberta, there's very little true rural left. Actually, as of 2001 StatsCan said that Alberta's population was 81% urban.
The automobile has changed the way we live. When my Dad was born in the '50s coming into Grande Prairie from DeBolt was a big deal. He might have come to town a few times a year, if he was lucky. Now, DeBolt is a quick 30 minute trip and before my uncle left the homestead last year I bet either he, or my aunt (or both) were in town at least once a week. It's a fact now that you can live where you want, work where you need to, and have fun where you want - just just have to be able to afford the gas for the car (or truck).
That being the case, it's no wonder that we are starting to see areas that used to be rural looking pretty darn urban. Not just here in GP, with the new country residential subdivisions, but around the province.
The MD of Rocky View, just north of Calgary, wants to turn the hamlet of Balzac in to something pretty urban. Two area structure plans (ASPs) for the area say that it could be home to over 40,000 people by 2035.
That's a lot of rurbanites.
The question then, is this: How do local governments change to keep pace?
If a hamlet has 40,000 residents do they deserve their own local government?
- hamlets don't get one now.
If a rural (county or M.D.) has these type of communities do they start to pay for things like police in the same way cities do?
- right now, cities pay about 90% of the cost for each officer they have, the province pays for the rurals
If I live my day to day life in a one hour driving time radius, do the boundaries of governments need to change?
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Municipalities have been talking about the infrastructure deficit for quite a while now. I kind of have a suspicion that the term might only mean something to politicians. What it means in real day to day terms is that local governments like cities don't have the money to build, fix, or maintain the "stuff" that you expect in a community.
If you imagine the suff you or your family use on a day to day basis as you go about your life you're probably thinking about municipal infrastructure. You know, things like the roads you drive on, the arenas your kids play hockey in, the water lines that flow to your house or even the parks you take the dog to. That's all municipal infrastructure.
Combine all the taxes you pay in life, property taxes, income taxes, sales taxes, everything. Only about 7% of that total goes to local governments. To put it a different way, out of every dollar collected in taxes in Canada only 7¢ goes to municipalities to provide the things you use daily.
It's no wonder that cities are having a tough time keeping up. The picture above is from Fort Nelson in the Northern Rockies Regional District in BC. I'm sure their arena was well maintained and this was a freak thing but I haven't ever seen a better example of crumbling infrastructure. Oh, wait a minute ... yes I have, here.
So, now both of these municipalities have to figure out how to pay to rebuild and repair their crumbled facilities, using just 7¢ of your tax dollars. That's the infrastructure deficit.
Protective Services is one of the two and although it usually only meets once a month it deals with lots of things that (I think) are important to having a well functioning city: RCMP, By-Law & Fire.
Today Karen Gariepy is bringing forward a recommendation to start a "Report a Drug House" program. The Edmonton police service is running an innovative program and our model is based in large part on that. Basically the idea is to give neighbours an avenue to pass on information about what's happening down their street. Then, the "officials" can use any tools at their disposal to address the problems. It could include By-Law, it could include Fire Inspections, or the Health Inspections ... Whatever is available to keep it from being easy to do business as a drug house.
They've faced a little criticism in Edmonton but achieved some amazing results in permanently shutting down drug houses and making neighbourhoods safer. That success why they have the support of the residents in the neighbourhoods.
I've lived near two different drug houses and the effect they have on your sense of safety (or lack there of) is huge. After one was shut down I had a chance to take a peek inside and it was pretty obvious that if a fire inspection, or public health inspection had been done it would have resulted in the place being condemned. That being the case I think putting those resources to work is totally appropriate.
Monday, April 9, 2007
Another part of the motion is to have the Mayor write a letter to Municipal Affairs requesting a review of the grant.
If you want to watch the meeting you can do that here:Muniportal.ca
You know, just in case you're really interested.
He was asking how Council could be so heartless and close these shelters when there were people in need who would be out on the street.
Here's the thing... Council hadn't decided to close these shelters. Here's an abbreviated version of how I replied to him:
Thank you for your note. From the tone of your letter it appears that you think it is the city of Grande Prairie that is kicking these people out. If that is the case you need to understand the full facts...
The city of Grande Prairie (with help from the community) is the organization who made these shelters available in the first place. We gave space in our old fire hall and our old RCMP building to house single moms and families. A community church provided the space for the 'mat' program where those living on the streets can stay for the night.
The funding for all of these places is through a grant from another order of government. Each space needs funds to pay for supervision to ensure the security and safety of the people staying there as well as for the operational costs like heat and lights. The government has chosen a deadline of April 1st to end the program that was paying for this.
Many times both city staff and the elected people on council have talked (and begged) whoever would listen to extend the programs so that these people wouldn't have to leave. As far as I know they have not chosen to extend the programs.
I am sure that our staff are working on other solutions to make sure that these people do not go out in the cold and I am also sure that council will support them with any solutions that come forward.
The city of Grande Prairie is also working to build a 40 unit apartment complex to provide more affordable housing units in the community, we have also donated land to Habitat for Humanity for a number of that organization's projects and will will do the same in the future. We help pay for a van that travels the streets at night to provide blankets and other basic needs to those sleeping on the streets. We are keenly aware of the great need in our community and we are doing our best to address it with the resources we have available.
Thank you for our note, I would encourage you to send the same to the Premier of Alberta - the Honourable Ed Stelmach (firstname.lastname@example.org) and the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing - the Honourable Ray Danyluk (Minister.MAH@gov.ab.ca)
Bill Given, Alderman
City of Grande Prairie
So, today in the Daily Herald Tribune there is an article on the same issue that says the city has changed it's mind about keeping the shelters open.
Ummmmm... What actually happened is probably more like this:
There wasn't going to be any more money from other orders of government so staff found a way to do it. They probably did that by stretching little bits of money from other projects or service areas to make ends meet. Thank goodness they did. There was no mind changing - we always wanted them open.
Friday, April 6, 2007
This summer will see the dirt start to move for the development of GP's new Cultural Centre. It's a combination of a two story 37, 000 sqft Library, a 4200 sqft Central Hall and a 8000 sqft addition to the current Art Gallery. You can see all the details and some renderings of what the whole thing will look like here.
We are lucky to have a great site available right in the heart of the city for a project like this. It's funny, I actually attended the old Montrose Junior High School which stood on this same site until it was knocked down in the early 90's. One of the great features of the project is the underground parking which will allow us to save lots of area for greenspace and park.
Like all projects there have been some snags along the way, you know things like a third of the roof on the old art gallery collapsing! Luckly it looks like most of the art was saved and thanks to Gallery Director Robert Steven no one was hurt. The local newspaper has a great photo show of the collapse here. We're not sure at this point if we'll be able to save the old building and still attach to it as we had planned - I hope we can, GP only has so many historic buildings.
So the scope of the project could change quite a bit depending on how the status of the collapsed gallery ends up. Regardless, I can't wait to see the ground breaking happen this summer!
Thursday, April 5, 2007
I noticed that there was a lot of talk about a new arena to house the WHL Tigers and get them out of the 30 year old 4000 seat arena that they play in now. The city has conducted some feasibility studies on the concept of building a new barn with 6500 seats. Guess what it will cost ....
Yep, about $90 Million.
Ok, that probably wasn't hard given the title of the post but it got me thinking about the projects we are considering here.
We are looking at the development of the new Aquatics Centre and Field House at the Community Knowledge Campus The consultants are just beginning the broad public review of the concept but take a guess at what the likely cost of the facility is ...
Yep, about $90 Million.
This is just off the top of my head so I may miss something or get something wrong but to give you a very basic picture of what that $90M will buy us:
10 lane, 54m Main Tank
Smaller Warm Up Tank
Diving Towers (up to 10m)
Lazy River Tube Ride
2 Hot Tubs (one for families & one for adults)
Spray Deck (water cannons ect for the kids)
Seating for up to 1000 spectators
Weight Room ("room" is a little misleading here - think World's Gym size)
300m Running track
Indoor Soccer Field
2 Multipurpose "floor-plates" (up to 6 full size basketball courts)
Seating for up to 1500 spectators
All the connections and common areas with the rest of the CKC
Lease space (Walk up Food services, Sit down restaurant or stores ect.)
That doesn't really do it justice - I'll see if I can find the concept that was presented to Council - but you get the idea.
For the same $90 Million I think I like what we're getting, even if just for the simple fact that more people in the community can use it for a wider range of activities. From national competitions to health & wellness for kids and seniors.
What do you think?
I did a search last night to see what I could find for blogs focusing on municipal government in Alberta. I only got through the first couple of pages of results but there was one real gem in there.
Mad Hatters is a very active blog commenting on what is happening down in Medicine Hat. It's great to see that there are people talking about local government in that corner of the province!
I lived in the 'Hat for a year and it always seemed to have a lot of similarities to Grande Prairie. Having said that there are a lot of things that were different even then - demographics to start, GP has more people 4 and under than we have 60 and over. Medicine Hat is at the other end of the spectrum.
John Hamill is the one member of the council there that I know. We've crossed paths couple of times at conferences of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association over the years. I've been introduced to him because Helen Rice from our council is very involved at AUMA and I think they both sat on the association's board at one time.
Anyways, it's great to find at least one other site focusing on a city government in Alberta. There must be more so I guess it's back to the search - unless you have any suggestions.
Either way I'm going to add Mad Hatters to my regular reading material - and to the Worthwhile Blogs list on the right side bar.
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
Last night some members of council met with our Dawson Creek counterparts from just over the border in British Columbia. Not everyone from each council was able to make it. Mayor Ayling, Alderman Eckhardt, Alderman Heath, Alderman Logan and Mazer where there along with our City Manager (Dave Gourlay), Treasurer (Ken Anderson) and Public Works Director (Frank Daskewech) and my self.
We've been doing these kind of meetings with other councils or groups since my first term. Most of the meetings don't have a set agenda and there isn't any press. It gives us a chance to meet other local councils in a relaxed atmosphere where we can both catch up and compare notes on what is going on in our respective communities.
The last time we met like this with Dawson Creek was back in that first term, it has to be at least 4 years ago now. One of the interesting things we found out about through these meetings is the Fair Share program that the B.C. government started up for communities in the North East. I'm going to have to do a whole post about that program but just to give you an idea of what it is - Basically the BC government gives a special grant to put back a little of the revenue from oil and gas in to the communities that support the people and businesses doing the work. That's a real simplification but the point is of course in the $$.
So, how much is it? Dawson Creek, population of about 12 000, will receive a special grant of $6M this year on top of any other money they are getting from the province, it's paid per person in the community. So if a similar thing happened in Alberta, Grande Prairie would see approximately $23M extra from the province every year!
Hmmmm... no wonder the community can build their Multiplex.
Anyways, it was good to catch up with Dawson and meet their new mayor, Calvin Kruk. We heard about, their efforts to land a Junior Hockey team like the GP Storm, how the construction of the Multiplex was going, how the federal census might have under counted, how the planning commissions in BC are protecting farmland from development and a bunch of other odds 'n ends.
It's interesting to think that Dawson Creek used to be the big community in the Peace Country. Sure, times have changed but they have a lot going for them now and you never know what could happen if we don't keep on our toes.
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
Grande Prairie has been growing - lots of new people, lots of new businesses and all the traffic that goes along with both of those.
One of the biggest irritations has been what is known locally as The Bypass (you can see it in blue above). It's actually provincial highway #43 and the name "bypass" is a little bit of a throw back because it hasn't been a true bypass in years, the city has grown up around it. Truckers hate it, parents whose kids cross it to go to school hate it, shoppers hate it and if you own a small car (there are some in GP - honestly) it's kinda scary.
The province has a plan to build a new bypass that will really do the job. It would go from the overpass north of the city at the intersection of highways #43 and #2 and reconnect with #43 on the far side of the airport but it's a long ways off. They still have to buy all the land and the cost is going to be BIG.
So, locally we started promoting an interim solution which was to upgrade 116th Street (in red) to a four-lane standard. 116th runs out of the city's industrial area, north through the County of Grande Prairie and right into where the "ultimate" provincial bypass will go. Part of the job would be the City, part would be the County and the last bit would be the Province.
The City started construction in 2006 but the County wouldn't start until they got special "resource road" funding from the province.
The city started lobbying anyone we could to get the funding for the County. Every time we went to Edmonton or met with anyone from the department we would ask. We met with the new Minister of Infrastructure & Transportation in February and presented it to him. The Liberals took up the cause after their visit to the city early in March. I think they got a real picture of how bad it was when they had to travel it so Liberal leader Kevin Taft asked Premier Stelmach about it in question period on March 13th.
And... finally, today the County is announcing that they got funding for it! Great news, but if you live here you want to know when it's going to be built.
Well, the city portion should be done this summer but there hasn't been an announcement on the provincial portion yet and the county will have to tender the work for their bit. So I'm betting that it will miss the construction season of '07. That probably means an '08 construction and late '08 or '09 opening.
So, as for that relief from traffic - not just yet, but we're working on it.
Ok, this isn't in GP but I do think it's a cool idea. Leaf Rapids, Manitoba has banned "one time use" plastic bags in the community.
"As of April 2nd, By-Law 462 states that retailers will no longer be permitted to give away or sell plastic shopping bags that are intended for single use; only multi-use, reusable bags will be accepted. Anyone who contravenes this By-Law is guilty of an offence and could face a fine of not more than $1000.00."
If you're like me you have a bunch of these stuffed under the sink or in a drawer somewhere. I take them out to the recycling bins when they pile up but I still find them annoying. It's especially sad to see them stuck up in a tree blowing in the wind - yep that's what we're adding to the planet. You're welcome.
So, could an idea like this work in a city like Grande Prairie?
It's already happening in California.
Having said that, I take no responsibility for any thing Wade posts - you're on your own over there! ; )
Monday, April 2, 2007
Anyone who lives up in the Peace Country - or Alberta for that matter, knows that Affordable Housing is a moving target.
Case in point:
The city has been working to build a project called Hearthstone Manor for a few years now. The project is a 40 unit building that would be owned by the city and rented out at rates under what the market rate is.
It would earn a small profit because it would have no mortgage and that would go into building other affordabe housing.
That was the plan anyways...
When the project was originally developed the budget amount was about $4M and the province contributed $50 000 per unit for a total of $2M through a grant program they have. Just 3 months after the City received the grant the provinced upped the program to $150 000 per unit but we couldn't get the difference.
Then the Alberta economy when to work on it and the construction cost ballooned to $9M! All of the sudden it's not looking so affordable, the rents will have to go up and/or the city taxpayer will have to pick up the difference and to top it off there's no more profit to help build more projects.
So today in the Affordable Housing Building Committee meeting we approved going ahead at the new cost. We had to bite the bullet, someone needs to build this.
The real work now is to convince the province that they should up our grant. If we were at the $150 000 per unit that would be $6M! The rents could stay truly affordable, the project would turn a profit to help fund more units and the city taxpayer wouldn't be stuck with the bill.
If the province chooses not to reconsider the funding one has to ask where the Alberta Advantage has gone - the billion dollar surpluses aren't actually doing a lot for the citizens of the province.
I'll keep you updated when we get a response from the new minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
Why would I want to do that?
Even my 12" PowerBook is a little big to lug around all the time - this seems like a good alternative.
I'm going to expose what a terrible speller I am.
I'll sign these ones off with "Mobile Bill" just so you know when I'm using my "crackberry".
Like everyone else I'd heard of blogs but aside from a small attempt back in the 2004 election this will be my first full-fledged attempt at joining in on the revolution.
What am I going to do with this blog?
Well, for starters I'd like use it to talk about some of the issues I see on a regular basis as an elected official. There are lots of things that come up in the day to day business of local government that don't get the discussion they deserve. Hopefully some of you 'out there' are interested in some of the same things and we can have some good discussion. Actually, that brings up an important point - I'd like to encourage anyone reading to take an active part in the discussion and post comments. If you agree, if you disagree, whether you think I'm on point or off base, I'd like to hear from you. Correct me, applaud me or browbeat me... I don't care as long as you're there.
I may drift a little bit in the topics that I post on - let's call that variety. If there's something that you'd like to bring to my attention feel free to drop me a line email@example.com and I'll give you a response in a post.
Hopefully this blog will turn into something you enjoy reading on a regular basis - like I enjoy the Worthwhile Blogs to the right.
Time will tell right?