Monday, December 22, 2008

Spice Things Up For The Holidays

With the holidays upon us I thought I'd do a quick post this afternoon to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and all the best for 2009!

2008 has been a very busy year for the City of Grande Prairie and I think we'll see the same in 2009. Of course we're aware of the concerns out there about the economy but over all I believe that our region will enter '09 in at least as strong a position as any other city in the province, or country for that matter.

Exciting things are happening in our city; construction has started (finally) on the swimming pool / multiplex, the new Library/Art Gallery will open this spring and this winter our roads are benefiting from the extra $1.3m in snow removal budget passed last year.

I'm going to try to do a year end wrap up over the break so check back for that as the new year approaches.

In the mean time I had to share this little bit of municipal news from south of the border:

"ANKENY, Iowa (AP) — Slush has never smelled so spicy.

City crews in the Des Moines suburb of Ankeny are using garlic salt to melt snow and ice on streets from Tuesday's storm. The salt was donated by Tone Brothers Inc., a top spice producer headquartered in Ankeny.

Public Works Administrator Al Olson said the company donated 18,000 pounds of garlic salt to use on its 400 miles of roads.
Olson doesn't have details, but he said the salt would have ended up in the landfill, so the company donated it. A telephone call Wednesday to Tone Brothers wasn't immediately returned.

Olson said the city mixed the garlic salt with regular road salt and it works fine. He said some road workers say it makes them hungry, but Olson doesn't recommend it to spice up lunch or dinner."

That town is going to smell great come spring - I see an upswing in business coming for the local Italian restaurants!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Talkin' Taxes

At last night's council meeting we approved the budget for 2009 as well as what should be considered a draft budget for 2011. Of course there is always a lot of public comment & media coverage with municipal budgets and taxes in general. Usually the discussion rotates around how much the taxes are or how much they are going up rather than what they are paring for.

So I thought I'd try to find a little different way to show what your monthly taxes will be paying for in 2009.

The charts below are based on a house valued at $350,000. Using the city's online tax estimator tool we can find out that the approximate municipal tax bill will be $2271.04 per year, or $189.25 per month.

This first chart shows roughly how much of that $189.25 per month goes to different city departments.
All the numbers shown in the chart are in dollars. For example; of that $189.04 monthly tax bill, $61.43 goes to pay for the Protective Services department, $9.74 goes to Transit and $2.39 supports the activities and expenses of Council.

Protective Services Breakdown
This second chart breaks it down even further by looking at the $61.43 per month in the Protective Services Area. Of that total $31.69 per month goes towards paying for RCMP and $23.82 pays for the Fire Department.

So, someone living in a house valued at $350,000 is paying approximately:

• $32 per month for access to round the clock, 365 day a year RCMP service
• $24 per month for access to round the clock, 365 day a year professional Fire Fighting service

Ok, ok... I know it's likely that breaking it down this way isn't going to change how one feels about paying taxes. I do hope that it at least give a little perspective on the "value for dollar" that your local government is providing.

By an interesting coincidence, the chart that inspired me shows that residents in Guelph are paying a similar amount for fire protection.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Gallery Reconstruction (re)Considered Tonight at Council

At tonight's council meeting there is a motion to reconsider council's previous direction on the fate of the historic Prairie Art Gallery building.

About 1/4 of the building was lost when the roof collapsed in March 2007. Since then it's sat open and exposed to the elements while it's fate has been bounced around and the insurance issues have been sorted out. Late this summer council passed a motion directing staff to seek permission from Alberta Culture & Heritage to demolish the building and begin construction of a new building on the site.

At the time I was the lone dissenting vote - As I said previously I really believe the building is important given Grande Prairie's limited amount of historical resources. Apparently the ministry feels somewhat the same as their response to the City's request seemed to indicate between the lines that restoration was the way to go. The building expert the minister sent to inspect the site was pretty clear in his report that the building was still very salvageable.

I think the motion to move forward with restoration and reconstruction will pass easily tonight given the letter from the minister and out-pouring of support old high school building we've seen over the last few weeks.

The collapsed Prairie Art Gallery building (finally) gets a temporary roof to protect the structure while it's fate is decided.

Workers installing the roof on the old gallery building.

This picture shows the connection area where the new cultural centre is supposed to connect to the old art gallery building. The connection hasn't been built yet because of the uncertainty of what would happen to the old building.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Accessible Taxi Launch Pictures

Some pictures from today's media event launching Grande Prairie's first wheelchair accessible commercial taxi. See my previous post (Here) for the background and media release.

Yellow Cabs Owner, Percy Sekora speaks to the media.

DTS President John Minue (left) speaks with Ald. Radborne (middle) and DTS board member Darrell Watchorn.

Darrell become the first Grande Prairie resident to ride in our new taxi as the media looks on.

The ramp is lifted and Darrell is on his way!

GP's First Accessible Taxi Launched Today!

This afternoon I'll be at City Hall for a very special event as Grande Prairie's first wheelchair accessible taxi is launched. I've volunteered on the board of the Disabled Transportation Society for the last few years and serving there has really opened my eyes to the different ways you have to plan your life if you are in a chair. One of the goals we set out was to help our clients and members by exploring options for round the clock service.

Right now DTS can only afford to operate between certain hours. So that means if you wanted to go out to a late movie (or even a late Storm hockey game) you might not be able to get home because the DTS buses stopped operating at 10:30! Also because of the demand clients have to book trips DTS in advance. So, what happens if a visiting friend surprises you with a call asking you out for coffee? Sorry, if you haven't booked your ride with DTS 24 hours in advance we probably can't fit you in.

This new taxi should help solve those kind of things and really improve the quality of life for folks in wheelchairs. Yellow cabs will operate the taxi while it is still owned by DTS which I think is a good arrangement.

I've been working on this since council originally approved the grant a few years ago before I got on the board and I'm happy to see it finally all fall into place.

The city's news release is below:

"Partnership Paves Way For Wheelchair Accessible Taxi

The City of Grande Prairie and the Disabled Transportation Society (DTS) have partnered to provide the community with its first-ever wheelchair accessible taxi.

At a ceremony today, the new unit, a Chevrolet Uplander, operated by Yellow Cab in a lease arrangement, was unveiled at City Hall.

“We are proud to invest in this initiative to ensure a group of our citizens can participate more fully in the community,” says Mayor Dwight Logan. “I commend everyone involved for working hard to see this initiative through to fruition.”

The $50,000 taxi was purchased with the support of a $20,000 grant from the City of Grande Prairie and DTS contributing the $30,000 balance from their own funds.

“This initiative is an important step forward for accessibility,” says John Minue, present of the DTS. “Today’s launch has been more than three years in the making and we’ve overcome several challenges along the way. This is an exciting day.”

DTS and Grande Prairie Transit, the only providers of public wheelchair accessible transportation, have limited hours of operation, from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., and have limited availability, notes Minue. “The wheelchair accessible taxi will be in service around the clock every day,” he says.

DTS’s door-to-door service requires 24-48 hours advance booking on a first-come, first-served basis. Difficulty in accessing bus stops in winter, restricted transit hours and fixed routes have also meant gaps in service, notes Minue.

The new unit will address a myriad of needs, says Minue. These range from early morning flights, late-evening social events, after-hours trips to and from the hospital, and as an option when the DTS is already booked.

Percy Sekora, Yellow Cab owner, has offered to donate 10 per cent of the profits from the unit to the Society. “I am thrilled to partner in this initiative,” he says. “I am pleased to help fill gaps in service for residents who deserve the opportunity to enjoy social activities or get to appointments readily like able-bodied citizens.”

The new taxi can transport those in wheelchairs and regular passengers. Those wishing to utilize the taxi can make arrangements through Yellow Cabs' regular dispatch at 780-539-3366."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

International Human Rights Day

Have you every actually read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? I have to admit that although I'm sure I've seen it many times I couldn't recite it.

I found this clip on the Oscio website and I have to be honest, it gives me chills when I watch it.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights from Seth Brau on Vimeo.

I can't help but think; what if every nation on Earth abided by the principles laid out here? Or, even closer to home; what if the needs of every person in Canada were addressed in accordance with the Declaration?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Not Time To Give Up Yet

I was really disappointed last week.

At the regular Government Services committee meeting we received a response from the Minister of Municipal Affairs to our request asking him allow Grande Prairie to utilize internet voting in the 2010 municipal election. His response in the official letter to the City was very similar to the email he sent me:

"Dear Mr. Given:

Thank you for your recent e-mail confirming that the City of Grande Prairie is offering to be a pilot site for internet voting for the 2010 general municipal elections conducted under the Local Authorities Election Act (LAEA).

To confirm our discussions and followup letter to your mayor, at this point in time, internet voting is not permitted under the LAEA, but there is an ability to pass a regulation allowing an elected authority to prescribe a system for the conduct and procedure of an election or vote not provided for in the LAEA. If the city was interested in pursuing alternative voting, a business case would have to be presented to request internet voting. The business case would need to address the pertinent issues, such as the need for internet voting in the city, who is the licensed provider, how is security guaranteed, how is voter validation dealt with, what are the costs, how are results verified and recounts conducted.

I understand you have provided a contact with a company that may be supplying internet voting services to the city. For the ministry to review your request, the city needs to present a written business case addressing the potential security, privacy, validation and process issues that may arise as a consequence of implementing internet voting methods.

Once we have received the information from the city on the process issues noted above and anticipated costs, we will further review your request.

Ray Danyluk

The Minister's response isn't what I was disappointed in, after all he's basically asking for more info which is reasonable. This idea is gaining steam, Grande Prairie had resolution adopted by the AUMA in 2007 and now it looks like Edmonton is catching on to the idea (from this article you'd think it was their idea). This will be reality eventually and the Minister wants to cover all the bases, that's fair.

Anyways, what disappointed me was what happened when I tried to move the process along.

The short version of the story is: I made a motion asking administration to come up with a plan on how we could put together a business case, including what it would cost to do so. The Mayor spoke against my motion saying that it would be an example of provincial downloading. The vote was called on my motion, Mayor Logan & Alderman Minhas voted against it while Alderman Rice and myself voted for it - and on a 50/50 tie, the motion was defeated.

So the request to check in to what it might cost to build a business plan to submit to the Minister died right there. Right after the meeting I was very disappointed and confused. I couldn't understand why the two other committee members would vote against an idea that:

A) didn't cost us anything
B) could have helped us build a case that would encourage the province to pick up part of the costs of an internet vote

So anyways, my mood right then is probably what caused me to sound so fatalistic in the newspaper interview.

But, upon reflection... I've decided not to give up.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Celebrate International Volunteer Day

Today is International Volunteer Day.

Designated by the UN in 1985 International Volunteer Day is a time to thank the volunteers in our communities for their efforts and increase public awareness on their contribution to society. During the course of my work on council I've realized that with out volunteers our city would be a very, very different and depressing place.

If you are looking to volunteer, to support the work of volunteers (or even for a way to thank volunteers) in Grande Prairie you should contact the Volunteer Services Bureau.

Thanks to all you volunteers out there!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Library Update - December 1st, 2008

An update on the action at the GPPL from Library Director Laurie Harrison:

The Giving Tree
The Giving Tree in the Children’s Library will be accepting stocking stuffer donations from December 1 to December 19. New items such as socks, toothbrushes, hats, mitts gratefully accepted. Donations will go to the Odyssey House.

Learn German with Auralog
Join us for weekly German lessons as you learn with Auralog, the language learning software now available through the Grande Prairie Public Library. Learn how to use the software and then practice at home and with the group. Registration is required. Maximum of eight participants. Materials fee: $5.00 This program will be 12 weeks. Beginning Thursday, January 15 at 7:30 pm in the Isabel Campbell Room. For more information and registration call Luba at 532-3580 ext. 259.

The Grande Prairie Public Library 21st Annual Clem and Muriel Collins Writing Contest: WINNING AND LOSING
Writers come one, come all. Start thinking about entering one of Alberta’s best writing contests! There are five entry categories: Grades 1-3, Grades 4-6, Grades 7-9, Grades 10-12 and Adult all with great cash prizes. Pick up a brochure for specific guidelines at the Library or online at . The Children’s Library will begin accepting submissions Monday, January 5, 2009. Contest closes Friday, April 3 at 6:00 pm.

Wrap up your Library this Christmas!
Put your Library under the tree this year. Purchase a Library membership for that hard to buy for person on your Christmas list and give them unlimited movies, books and CDs all year long! Gift certificates are available at the Circulation Desk.
Families: $15.00
Adults: $7.50
Seniors: $5.00
Students grades 7 and up : $2.00
Children grades 1 to 6 : $1.00
Preschoolers :Free

The Featured Online Research Tool for December is: Credo Reference
Did you know that your Library offers extensive and credible reference sources to answer all your questions? From music to history, literature to business, your Library has an online research tool. Use of these online research tools is included with your Library membership.

This month’s featured tool is Credo Reference. Credo is a vast online reference library, providing access to the full text of hundreds of highly regarded and popular titles. Credo brings the facts alive with images, sound files, animations, videos and much more. Find speedy, simple answers and full in-depth articles. Credo Reference is constantly expanding and currently offers around 300 quality reference titles on every major subject.

You can access over three million cross-referenced, searchable, authoritative entries a growing world of information at the click of a mouse! Credo Reference contains dictionaries, bilingual dictionaries, thesauri, encyclopedias, quotations and atlases. Plus a wide range of subject-specific titles covering everything from the arts to accountancy, science to Shakespeare and law to literature.

To access the online research tools, visit and click on Online Research Tools in the left hand menu. Have your Library card ready.

The Future of Muskoseepi Park

I'm really impressed with how every time we do a survey on recreation the highest rated amenity Grande Prairie has is our urban park, Muskoseepi. The park was largely developed in the early 80's with money from a provincial urban parks program. (Probably one of the best programs the province has ever had if we judge by the success and longevity of the park it left behind!)

Today Muskoseepi stretches from one end of the city to the other and brings together a wide variety of activities and features. The city is doing some planning ahead and developing a Muskoseepi Park Master Plan which will guide the future development and expansion of the park. As with all of our master plans we take community input seriously as part of this process there have been surveys and public input sessions. Before the consultants go away to draw up the final plan based on what they've heard you get one more chance to have your say:

What: Muskoseepi Park Master Plan Review
Where: Muskoseepi Park Pavilion
When: Wednesday, December 3rd - 6:30pm

News Release:

Resident Voice On Muskoseepi Park Future Encouraged

City residents have one further chance to have their say into the future of Muskoseepi Park.

An open house to review the Muskoseepi Park Master Plan is set for Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the Muskoseepi Park Pavilion. This is the last opportunity for residents to provide input prior completion of the plan.

“The first round of public consultation and stakeholder meetings provided valuable feedback and we want to ensure we’ve given residents as much opportunity as possible to participate in this important process,” says Operations Manager Laurie Barry. “A second open house will validate the goals and recommendations are as accurate as possible regarding the community’s vision of this park for the future.”

Muskoseepi Park includes Bear Creek North, the Reservoir, Crystal Lake, Centennial Park, the Trail System, and Bear Creek South.

“We are grateful to all community members who took the time to respond to the public survey,” says Barry. “This input gives us a very good understanding of the issues, ideas, needs and wishes to better meet the needs of our community. This Park is an extremely valuable resource in the City and we want to maximize its potential through the Master Plan.”

Information on the survey feedback will be provided at the Open House.

All the goals will be collected from the public input and these will be formalized into recommendations within the Master Plan. The document is due to be finalized in April for City Council approval.


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