Thursday, May 31, 2007

Province Going Non-Smoking

I just did a quick interview with the Daily Herald, responding to the news that the provincial government appears set to enact no-smoking legislation that would apply to all workplaces across Alberta.

Blogger Ken Chapman has been following this for quite a while and has the goods.

As for the media, the Edmonton Journal seems to have the most up to date information:

"Health Minister Dave Hancock said he hopes to introduce legislation in June, although it's unclear when the rules will take effect. When they do, Alberta will move from being Canada's most smoker-friendly province to one of its most stringently anti-tobacco.

The plan will even prohibit smoking within a to-be-determined distance from windows and doorways, to shield people from the toxins of second-hand smoke."
full story

A while ago council asked administration to put together a draft bylaw meeting the Gold Standard that most other cities in the province have gone to. A gold stadard bylaw prohibit smoking in all public places, including restaurants, bars, billiard halls, bingo halls, bowling alleys, and casinos/slots (where applicable). There is no allowance for Designated Smoking Rooms in Gold Standard by-laws. If the province comes in with thier own legislation that meets that standard then it wouldn't make sense for us to have a bylaw that duplicates it. I'm looking forward to finding out more details about this, when they will bring it to the legislature for a vote, if it passes when would it come in to force?

Still many details to be filled in but I think it's great news and long overdue.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

City / School Board Partnership

The GP Catholic School Board has posted the floor plans for the new Mother Teresa School that will open on the southeast side of the city sometime in 2008. The floor plans highlight the involvement of the city, which contributed to the construction of the school. The city provided money to expand one gym to a size that is useable for adult recreation AND to build an additional gymnasium. floor plan

The recreation masterplan full plan pdf spotlighted the many areas where we are short in space for people to spend their off hours. I think this is an innovative way to address that need - we are also doing the same with the Public School Board but they don't seem to have the plans on line. It cost the city about $4m for each school which is much less than it would have cost us to build these as stand alone projects, plus they will be up and running much sooner than if we had done it ourselves.

I wonder who's good idea that was ... (check item #7)

Friday, May 25, 2007

City's Aquatics Centre Website Updated

The city's website for the Community Knowledge Campus has been updated to add more info on the new Aquatics Centre.

The site now has draft floor plans for the facility. Another helpful addition is images showing examples of the types of equipment that are going to be part of the design. It makes it a little easier to understand what a surf machine is if you see it - even better is seeing a video. The same goes for the "lazy river" and all the kids areas.

The city will also be mailing out (and posting on the site) a survey to gauge the public interest in the different components and the desire to build the fieldhouse.

Cultural Centre Sod Turning Today

This afternoon is the official sod turning for Grande Prairie's new Cultural Centre. It's a little funny considering the dirt has already started moving but what do you do?

The $28m project will bring a new and greatly expanded library space, an expansion for the art gallery, a grand hall for community events and under ground parking. Depending on construction schedules and barring any unforeseen circumstances the facility will play host to the Lieutenant Governor's Arts Awards that the city will host in 2009.

Mobile Bill

The Rumors of GP's Demise - Greatly Exaggerated

"An ongoing rumor of a slew of housing foreclosures in Grande Prairie has no truth to it, says the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation." -full story

This has been an annoying little rumor that has been going around the city for a while now. Hopefully it's put to rest by this article by Darrell Winwood in the DHT. I first heard of this was over a year ago and since then it's kept coming back from different people who have "heard" that "last month there were 20 (or 30 or 40) foreclosures in GP."

People here are pretty sensitive to that kind of thing because it brings up memories of the early 80's when the NEP shut down Alberta and Grande Prairie. There are still lots of people living in our community who had to go through that. For them the memories of walking away from a home they couldn't afford or going in to bankruptcy are probably pretty vivid.

It's true that oil & gas activity across the province is not as busy this year as it has been. Any slowdown in that sector does ripple out across the economy - but it's not like the dead stop that there was back in the day. Most people I talk to say it's more like a "breather" and a little chance to catch up.

Add to this the fact that over the years GP has developed a more diversified economy and the true picture starts to come into focus.

We're doing alright - the rumors of Grande Prairie's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Globe & Mail Tells Fort Mac to Move over for GP

The Globe and Mail ran a great article yesterday recognizing Grande Prairie like this:

"Grande Prairie is the unknown Fort McMurray, an Alberta energy capital that's riding a wave of booming growth - yet remains well below the radar of even most Albertans."

Great article - worth a read.

Report a Drug House Progam Results

The City of Grande Prairie has started a "Report a Drug House" program. It's a cooperative effort modeled on an Edmonton program that I've spoken about before.

Some of the early results are in. This morning at the Protective Services Committee meeting the RCMP reported that since the program started a little over a month or two ago the community has partnered with the police and other agencies to:

Identify 8 New Drug Houses that were previously unknown to authorities.
Shut Down 2 Drug Houses that were identified.
Force Another Drug House to Move.

That's pretty significant success for a new program.

The last point might strike some people... "you made it move? big deal, it's just moved the problem to another house." That's true and I'll be the first to admit that, but I still see it as a success - and I'll tell you why: The key as I see to it is to make sure that it's not easy to do business selling drugs. If we can force them to move that's a first step to encouraging them that this community and our neighbourhoods are not the right place to do business. I'm hoping and betting the house that moved will be the next to close permanently.

Other points from the RCMP, Enforcement Services (City Bylaw) and Fire Department updates:

• The RCMP front counter is extending it's hours to 7pm to improve access and customer service.
• RCMP have 3 vacant positions that they are trying to fill. (Due to officers retiring ect)
• Enforcement Services has seen a 56% increase in calls for service this year over the same period in 2006.
• The New City/County Animal Pound is almost ready to go to tender for construction.
• The Fire Department handled over 2000 911 calls and dispatched the guys to over 120 fire related calls in just a little over a month.
• The F.D. also had members attend training on Meth Labs and how to deal with them. The training was put on by Community Crime Prevention.

So, there's a few highlights from this morning's meeting - still three more meetings today, who knows what else could happen!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Site Additions

I've been tinkering with the site a little over the last while in an attempt to add a few things that might be useful and interesting. All of the sections mentioned here are on the right hand side of the page in the green block. Check them out, use them as you see fit and tell me what you think of them - are they useful or not?

About Bill
The goal of this site isn't really to talk about myself but I realize that it's kind of a standard thing to have an "About Me" section. I've added a link to my bio on the City of Grande Prairie website along with a badge from my Facebook account. If you are on Facebook you can find out a lot more about me personally in my profile. The Facebook account is my personal account so you can kind of consider it "the lighter side" - I'm also not responsible for the actions of anyone but my self on Facebook.

Info Please
You've probably seen the polls that I've been running in Info Please. They are typically related to an issue that I've posted an article on and I will probably rotate them on an irregular basis as I see fit. You can't see it for some reason but just after the question I have a link to the article that is related. I like to leave them up for long enough that they collect at least a few votes.

Bill's Calendar
This is the most recent addition to the blog. I've been wanting to add this for a while but couldn't find what I was looking for until I checked out Google Calendar. I should have known to look there... My goal is to show you where I am and what meetings and events I'm attending for council. I may also include events from some community groups that I'm involved with. You can click on an event and get details on when, where and what exactly it is. Many of the events are public and I'd encourage you to join me and say hi when you see me.

Email Subscriptions
I've had a spot to sign up for email updates for a while.. unfortunately I don't think it's been working up to this point. But that should be corrected now and you should be able to sign up very simply and receive blog updates right in you email box. Remember to clear it with your spam filter.

As I said, if these things are cool and useful let me know - if they suck I need to know that too.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Edmonton Municipal Politics Blog

I checked in with daveberta this morning and noticed that he had a story on a new blog focusing on Edmonton city politics. From the looks of it this is a recently started blog but it has a lot of potential!

It's great to see more people talking about local government! So far, by my tally that now makes two Alberta cities who have thier own blogs covering local issues: Medicine Hat and Edmonton. I'm not including GP and this blog because the other two are run by residents and not politicians (that I know of).

So, two out of 16 cities in Alberta, there's a loooong ways to go.

If you know of any other local government blogs pass them on to me so I can highlight them here and add them to the list of Worthwhile Blogs.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Liberal Leader Recognizes GP Housing Crunch

If you live in Grande Prairie you know what I mean by "housing crunch". If you own a house you count yourself lucky. If you are looking to buy a house you're wondering how you are going to afford it. If you are renting you're worried about how long you'll still be able to afford that. If you're new here, without a house or somewhere to stay, you are in a desparate situation.

As the city we've been working on it but it would be nice to know that the government with the billion dollar surpluses over the last few years understands how bad it is here too. We've seen some help to be sure, but more is needed.

So, I was happy to hear Grande Prairie mentioned in this video from the Alberta Liberal leader Kevin Taft. If the leaders of any of the other parties want to post a video speaking about Grande Prairie's housing crunch I'd be happy to post them too. Until then, here's the video from the Liberals.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Quick Round Up

A few quick hits for your reading pleasure

Province Consulting Municipalities on TILMA
The Alberta Government is running a series of events across the province to consult with municipalities on TILMA.

My Comment:I've mentioned TILMA a few times before. AUMA is urging member municipalities to read TILMA and attend the sessions. I think I'll have this added a committee agenda so we have someone look at the issue and present our concerns at the GP meeting.

City of Edmonton and Home Builders Team Up on Litter

My Comment: I seem to see quite a bit of stuff blowing around from all the construction sites in the city. I know litter is one of the things that people say gets under their skin here in GP, maybe some team work like this would help.

Canada West Foundation Releases Western Cities Sourcebook
Detailed info on the West's largest cities; Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg. You can purchase the book from the foundation. Check the story link for details on what info is in there.

My Comment: We are always comparing ourselves to other comunities to see if we are doing similar things or if there are areas we can improve. Having detailed data like this would be helpful - if only there was another soucebook focusing on the mid-sized cities.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Cultural Centre Construction Webcam

I've mentioned Grande Prairie's new Cultural Centre before in a few different posts. I'm happy to pass on that this week construction started and dirt is starting to move at the site!

If you want to keep up with how things are coming the city has a webcam overlooking the action and it is updated every three hours during daylight hours.

The shot of the site is pretty good. You can see the current art gallery with it's collapsed roof and behind that the work that will eventually bring a new home for culture in the Grande Prairie region. Imagine the picture above filling that spot where you see dirt right now. Pretty exciting!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Looking Into TILMA

I mentioned the TILMA in a post last week. At that time I finished by saying:

"There are lots of immediate issues facing GP and they’ll get continue to get my full attention but the impacts of TILMA could be so far reaching that I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t at the very least have a look at it."

I have done a little more "looking" tonight and I see that many municipalities are concerned about TILMA and the impacts it could have on local government. Just a little of the chatter out there:

SUMA - Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association,
President, Saskatchewan Federation of Labour - Larry Hubich'sBlog
BC Municipalities - From the Owls and Roosters Blog

Most relevant to Grande Prairie though is the position of the AUMA - Alberta Urban Municipalities Association. So, it looks like there might be something there. I'm glad to see that the association is paying attention and working to make sure that municipalities interests are protected. I'll keep up to date on the action they are taking and support them where it makes sense for GP.

Oh, and I found the report from Saskatoon.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Who Really Pays To Fight Crime?

Did you know: In Alberta, if you are a County, and M.D. or a town with a population of less than 5000 you don't have to pay anything for your RCMP officers?

If you are a city... you pay.

With Grande Prairie's growing population and the amount of money that flows around here it's no surprise that this area is a magnet for the "unsavory" side of prosperity.

From 2001 to 2004 we saw a 61.7% increase in Criminal Code offenses at our detachment. If we compare that to the other "growth hot bed" Fort McMurray where there was only a 9% increase over the same period you get the sense that there's something different about GP.

Going a little deeper you notice it again and again:

- we had 213 criminal code files per RCMP member in GP, the highest caseload in Alberta, compared to 115 in Fort McMurray.

- 26% increase in traffic offenses from 1999 to 2003 compared to an actual decline in the rest of Alberta from Red Deer North.

So back in 2004 when we put in the first three year budget for Grande Prairie we approved more money to fight crime. That meant tax increases of 8.2% in 2005, 6.3% in 2006 and 6.5% this year - which we've stuck to.

Over those three years almost half of the tax increase was because we decided to spent more on anti crime programs and more law enforcement professionals. We committed to hiring 16 additional RCMP officers and 3 more Bylaw Enforcement officers and in just three years, the RCMP costs have increased by 54%, from $6.3m to $9.8m!

Your city tax dollars pay for every single police officer that we have. It's not cheap, but it is important.

So keeping in mind how important proper public safety and law enforcement is for everyone does it seem kind of strange that there are people who don't have to pay anything for it?

In our area, Hythe, Beaverlodge, Wembly, Sexsmith and the County don't have to pay for RCMP - the province does it for them. (To be fair the County does pay for "Enhanced Policing", but it's only two more officers above what the province gives them.)

So, after reading this what do you make of this article about the MD of Rockyview (just outside of to Calgary)? They are upset because they feel that crime from Calgary is going into their area. They are so concerned about it that they have gone ahead and decided to pay for.... one more officer.

Gee - hope that $140 000 doesn't break the bank guys.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Workshop 2 - Planning and Policy Innovation

The afternoon workshop was on Planning and Policy Innovation for Affordable Housing. I was interested to see what other cities are doing to plan for afforable housing and how they are including it in their bylawa and plans.

The first presenter was Cameron Gray, Director of the Housing Centre for the city of Vancouver

Vancouver Notes:

- 1/2 of households in the city of Vancouver are rentals and the median new single family home price is $1.2m! (No wonder must of the households are rentals.)

- Secondary suites are now permitted in all residential zones. We just approved the same thing in GP.

- The city uses Inclusionary Zoning. 20% of new development must be "affordable", and 50% of that must be for families.

- Mayor Sam Sullivan has coined a new term: EcoDensity

- The city charges a Development Cost Levy[bylaw pdf] of $6/buildable sq foot on new construction. This money is used for a number of things including buying land or building new affordable housing and Vancouver has special permission from the B.C. government

Next up was Jay Freeman, Director of Housing for the City of Edmonton

Edmonton Notes:

- Edmonton is adding a focus on affordable housing to it's Municipal Development Plan but they are just in the process of changing zoning bylaws to allow secondary suites in more residential areads.

- Their target is to create 2500 new affordable housing units in 5 years.

- The city rebates of municipal fees on projects that are affordable, unless I'm wrong they do this for private development as well as non-profit projects.

Interesting to see that we are doing very similar things to the big cities. I'm pretty sure staff in Grande Prairie are looking at bringing forward suggestions on Inclusionary Zoning and we've already addressed the secondary suites. During the Q & A session there was a lady from New Zealand who said that they have moved on from having to face NIMBY to BANANA - Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone. Ouch.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Workshop 1 - Housing in a Booming Economy

The first of my workshops kicked off at 10:30, Challenge of Building Affordable Housing in a Booming Economy. The speakers were Bryan Lutes from the Wood Buffalo Housing and Development Corp. (Wood Buffalo a.k.a: Ft McMurray) and Craig Crawford & Margaret McNeil of the BC Housing Corporation.

Wood Buffalo Notes:

- Ft. McMurray put in $40 000 to start the housing corporation in 2001 and haven't had to put in any thing else in since.

- They will complete 198 new units this year but lost a number to a huge fire that destroyed an existing building.

- Ave cost to build a unit is about $160 000 to $180 000 per door for an appartment.

- They manage 394 rent supplements.

Looks like a private not for profit corporation could be the way to go.

BC Housing Notes:

- Provincial Crown Corporation

- Experiencing 1% per month inflation (I think in AB we've been seeing about 3%)

- BC has a Provincial Housing Strategy: Housing Matters BC

- New rent supplement program for famlies with incomes under $28 000 per year.

- $31m per year for emergency shelters.

- BC Government bought 10 hotels in Vancouver and put them to use for housing, keeping them open. Started a numbered company to make the pruchase.

I continued to share a table with Minister Carter from New Zealand through the work shop. Off and on we spoke about the challenges in GP, and AB as well as the differences in homelessness between Canada and N.Z. (It doesn't seem to be as large an issue there in terms of total number of people affected) He was nice enough to pass on a copy of the N.Z. Housing Strategy which I'm going to have to read through.

Next is the lunch break...

Housing Congress - Day 2

The keynote this morning was from Philip Mangano, the Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness He was just recognized by Time as one of the 100 most influental people of 2006. Time had this to say about him:

"The war on homelessness has made more progress in the past five years than in the previous 100 thanks to Philip Mangano, the Federal Government's homelessness czar. When the history of the Bush Administration is written, we will remember Mangano as its finest appointee because he has had the courage to insist that homelessness must not be managed but solved."

Notes from the keynote:

- 20 U.S. Federal Departments are involved in the Council and ending homelessness. Everyone from Homeland Security to Transportation to Vetrans Affairs to Health.

- Noticed that 10% of the homeless population was consuming 50% of the resources targeted towards the issue.

- Change the paradigm from "How can we manage the homelessness issue?" to "How can we solve this?"

- Suggested taking a cost/benefit anayisis approach to investment in the issue & focus investment on the area where you can make the largest impact.

- Show the results of the investment and leverage sucess to draw further investment into the issue.

The mixing at these things is always interesting, I sat at a table with one of the people scheduled to speak later on. Chris Carter is a MP in the New Zealand government and the Minister of Conservation, Housing and Ethnic Affairs.

Next: on to the first workshop, Housing in a Booming Economy.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Housing Congress Day 1

This morning kicked off at about 7am for me, thankfully I don't take long to get ready so I was able to hit the snooze button once or twice before making my way downstairs for the first session at 8am.

The day started with a panel and three presentations. The one I found most interesting was from Manitoba -on a project called the Accessible Home from the North End Housing Project.

The Accessible Home is designed to create low cost homes for people with physical disabilities in Winnipeg's inner city. It's mostly redevelopment on lots as small as 25ft across! (Amazing when in GP we are looking at 33ft lots as too small) The 3 bedroom homes sell at about $70 000 even though they cost $143 000 to build. They are all built "Green" to the R-2000 standard for environmental efficency and indoor air quality. Lots of interesting features in the design, many that relate to accessibility:

Single story, no basement.

Concrete slab on grade floor, acid etched for looks.
(Low maintence, low chemical emissions for people with sensitivity)

Windows and light switches are lower on the wall - plug ins are placed higher.

Open space under sink.

Walls reinforced in shower, and near toilet for installing assistance bars.

Very cool design which looks great - I wonder how much it would cost to build in GP?

All afternoon was spent travelling to Bob Ward Residence. The facility is a project of Horizon Housing and is very similar to Willow Place in GP and then out to Okotoks. The Drake Landing solar community is very cool but more interesting than that is the town's focus on sustainability targets - to the point that they have decided not to grow in population beyond what the Sheep River can support.

Mobile Bill

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Broad Issue, Big Impact?

During the flight to Calgary for the Affordable Housing Conference I had time to re-read a letter that I received at city hall a few weeks ago. It’s a letter from the Council of Canadians that refers to the new Trade Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) that recently came into effect between the provinces of Alberta & British Columbia.

You might not have heard much about TILMA (The acronym is kind of fun to say, but it doesn’t tell you much what the agreement actually does.) If you’ve heard anything about a “free-trade” agreement between AB & BC - that’s TILMA, it just came in to effect on April 1st.

Grande Prairie has lots of pressing issues right now; Affordable Housing, Road Improvements, the need for New Facilities, Relations with the County and even just general up keep and maintenance around the city. As an organization the city only has so much time and resources that it can dedicate to issues, and the same is true for the individuals that make up city council. We can only tackle so many things at once, so sometimes lower priority things have to take a back seat.
So it’s probably not surprise that before receiving this letter I hadn’t given the Alberta/B.C. “free-trade” agreement much thought.

As I understood it the agreement was going to harmonize lots of provincial regulations that stood in the way of businesses and people moving between the two. A trucking company would need to meet only one set of standards to work in both provinces or trades people could be certified to work on either side of the border. That makes a lot of sense when you live in Grande Prairie. We are, after all, only about an hour from B.C. - many businesses and people work on both sides of that line.

The letter from the Council of Canadians (which I imagine was sent to elected officials all over the province) brought up a prospect that I hadn’t heard about: that municipalities might be forced to change local regulations. Here’s the paragraph that got me interested:

“Research by the Council of Canadians shows that TILMA will dramatically impact a municipality’s ability to draft or maintain any regulations that are deemed by a corporation or private individual to “impair or restrict” their investment. Through TILMA such “investors” are granted the right to launch lawsuits for up to $5-million in compensation for an regulation that they feel hurts their bottom line. Since all regulations can be seen in this light, TILMA throws the whole definition of local government in to question, threatening to seriously undermine municipal autonomy and hand considerable power over to the private sector.”

That’s pretty heavy stuff. The basic gist of it is this: if a corporation thought that a local bylaw impaired their ability to make money they could sue the city.

The letter goes on to add additional information and references a report by the the city of Saskatoon which looked at the issue (*link not working*) as well as further information on the Council of Canadians website. I haven’t read the further information yet but I’m interested enough that I’m going to have a look. I recognize that there are always two sides to a story so I’m going to have to do some research and find out exactly what the facts are.

There are lots of immediate issues facing GP and they’ll get continue to get my full attention but the impacts of TILMA could be so far reaching that I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t at the very least have a look at it.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Affordable Housing Congress

One of the largest issues facing Grande Prairie is the need for more housing, of the affordable kind. The recent Moneysense magazine survey of the best places to live in Canada saw GP drop from 4th spot all the way down to 99th. One biggest influencing factors in this was the lack of affordable housing in our community. Ft. McMurray was number 98, one spot above GP but also obviously plagued by many of the same issues. (There was also a factual error that cost GP a point - for fun, see if you can find it)

Lack of housing is something that is affecting the whole province so it should be no surprise that there's a convention dedicated to examining the issue and sharing solutions.

Tomorrow I'm heading down to Calgary for the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association's 39th Annual Congress: The Business of Affordable Housing . I'm hoping that there will be some new ideas that I can bring back and at the very least I'll have a chance to hear how other areas are working to handle the same issues we are facing here.

Here's a summary of the workshops that I'm registered for:


Pre-Congress Workshop
CHRA’s 2007 Pre-Congress workshop will examine shelter, transitional housing, assisted housing, affordable housing and market housing projects that have used design to meet their clients’ needs. Focused largely on projects in Calgary, participants will not only receive informative presentations but much of the day will be spent visiting sites to see the building designs first-hand.


The challenge of building affordable housing in a booming economy
A hot topic, this workshop will highlight development projects that have been successful in building strong neighbourhoods for service and key workers and their families, while also promoting the city’s competitiveness. The Fort McMurray case study will demonstrate an extreme example of how to be innovative.

Understanding the Program Landscape
This session will take an in-depth look at housing programs across the country related to affordable housing and homelessness, including Provincial Housing Trusts. How do these programs contribute to a comprehensive national housing policy? What's missing? How do they fit into the larger federal strategy?

Planning and Policy Innovation for Affordable Housing
City planners and developers won’t want to miss this workshop. Focusing on real-life examples, the discussion will cover strategies for environmental sustainability, inclusionary results, defeating community resistance, and learning to market effectively through better planning policies.


Plenary Session: Revitalizing Neighbourhoods in Decline
In cities across the country there are places once alive, prosperous and thriving that are now riddled with crime, poverty and desertion. How can we turn these places of despair into places of opportunity? Find out about successful strategies from New Zealand, Zimbabwe and Canada. This session will focus on solutions to this serious problem affecting communities all across Canada.

Community Consultation: A New Approach
As with many things, good communication skills are key to success in the affordable housing sector. Learn how to more effectively speak to community and government stakeholders, approach potential donors and partners, and support the affordable housing cause.

Wednesday's pre-congress workshop is a full day event but the others typically run for about an hour and a half and like any conference there are a number of speakers and keynote addresses mixed in through out the event. Kicking off the congress is Philip Mangano, Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness and later on through the week Monte Solberg the federal Minister of Human Resources and Social Development will speak. There is also a trade show which the congress website bills like this: "Unique products, services and solutions will be on display at our trade show throughout the Congress. It is the place to see what the most innovative, industry-leading specialists are up to." Interesting, I wonder what kind of companies will be there?

Anyways, there will be lots to learn. When I go to conferences I always try to go into them like a bandit - I'm looking to steal some good ideas an bring them home.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

SW Bypass Some Changes Made

I just got back from attending an invite only preview of the public open house that is being held tonight for the SW Bypass.

I was pleased to see that changes had been made and now none of the three options for the road alignment go through the Wapiti Nordic Ski area. That's good news and it looks like 'the system' worked just like it is supposed to. People saw something they didn't like, provided feedback to both the consultants and the government and changes were made.

It was a little funny actually, during the opening of the presentation Hasan, the lead consultant from ISL, said "We were silly enough to show the road running through the Wapiti Nordic Ski Trails in the first revision - you'll notice that that has been changed in these drafts."

The City's other concern, addressing a second crossing over the Wapiti river, was echoed by a number of people. It seemed as though the general consensus in the room was that it would only make sense to consider the option that I posted on previously. Unfortunately, it seems as though the study that ISL was hired by the province to do had set parameters: Connect highway 43 to highway 40 at some point south of the city and north of the river.

Apparently there is another study commissioned by the province that will look at the portion of highway 40 starting from about the Wapiti Ski Trails and extending south across the river. Would seem to me to make sense to do both of those studies at the same time - maybe a little more efficient?

In the end it sounds like this road is a long way off anyhow, the province wants to have an alignment designed so they can start protecting the land that it will require. In essence that means keeping people from building subdivisions where the road will go so there aren't conflicts in the future.

Still, with these kind of things it's important that we get out and make sure the design is what we want as a community. Once these studies are written and a "preferred option" is chosen it can have an impact even if they don't bring our the bulldozers the next day.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Residents Vote for Amalgamation

Just a quick note, I posted before on the movement towards amalgamation in the Lac La Biche area. The County and Town there are looking at joining together to form a single municipality. It had to go to a vote of the public and the results are in as of the 30th. I just received this note:

Sent: May 1, 2007 9:10 AM
Subject: Amalgamation Plebiscite Results

Good Morning Folks,

Unofficially, our April 30, 2007 Amalgamation Plebiscite results are as follows:

Lakeland County YES: 684 (53%) NO: 604 (47%) TOTAL: 1288 votes
Town of Lac La Biche YES 487 (93%) NO: 38 (7%) TOTAL: 525 votes
TOTAL YES 1171 (65%) NO: 642 (35%) TOTAL: 1813 votes

In the adopted terms of reference, both municipal councils have agreed to abide by the decision of the electorate, therefore, an amalgamation of the two municipalities is underway.

Media Relase attached.



Residents of the Town of Lac La Biche and Lakeland County were asked today to vote on the following question:

“Are you in favor of the Town of Lac La Biche and Lakeland County amalgamating to from one municipality?”

Results of the April 30, 2007 Amalgamation Vote are:

YES: 487 (93%) NO: 38(7%) TOTAL 525 votes

”From the number of folks who turned out to vote and the overwhelming YES results, it is clear that the Lac La Biche residents favor one governing structure for our community” says Mayor Tom Lett."

Very interesting, looks like the public in the Lac La Biche area have decided to move forward. They must recognize that they are an integrated region.

Setting the "Mill Rate"

Yesterday at the General Government Services (GGS) committee meeting we discussed the city's Mill Rate for 2007.

I'm not going to go into a big explanation of the mill rate because I'm sure I'd mess it up if I tried to explain it in detail. I'll just do the simplified version: The Mill Rate is a part of the calculation to figure out how much your property tax bill is. The other parts of that calculation are, the total budget that the city needs to pay for that year and the value of all the properties that pay taxes. There are different mill rates for different types of property - family homes have a different mill rate than commercial property.

In Alberta all local governments have to tax properties based on their "market value assessment", what your home would sell for in the open market.

Sometimes you'll see governments make a big deal about the fact that they kept the mill rate the same from one year to the next. But, just because the mill rate hasn't changed doesn't mean your taxes will stay the same - remember the other parts of that equation.

If the value of your home has increased but the mill rate hasn't changed your taxes will usually go up.

In the city our mill rate has been going down every year. It's been heading south because we are taking into account the fact that property values in GP have sky rocketed. We actually stopped talking about mill rates a while ago and started to focus on the actual increase in dollars we collect. Yep, that's going up this year.

In fact it's a 6.5% increase over last year. I'm not happy about it but I'm also not gonna kid you - I voted for it. I'm sure there's a big discussion here and I'm open to your comments but the basic principle of government is this: if the public wants more stuff (more police, more road repairs, new facilities) then the budget is going to go up, if the budget goes up the money needs to come from somewhere to pay for it. That somewhere is your taxes.

As I said that is another discussion, today I wanted to tell you about two things that came out of us setting the mill rate.

First we lowered the mill rate on Apartments which have always been charged more than single family homes. In apartments it's the building owner that pays the taxes not the renters so it stands to reason that increases in costs would drive up rents. Taxes are after-all one of those costs. Over the past few years we had apartment owners lobbying us to lower the taxes to match single family homes. The argument being that these are businesses but they are also places where people live, so they should be taxed the same rate. That would help provide more affordable housing.

This year, in actually dollar value we are collecting less taxes from apartments then we did in last year. In 2006 we collected $1 867,444 from apartments, this year we'll collect $1 822, 108. That's an extra $45,336 back in the pockets of apartment owners. I wonder if rents will go down even a little bit.

The second thing relates to land that the city annexed from the County of Grande Prairie. There were negotiations with the land owners of course, one of the conditions that they requested was that their taxes stay the same as they were in the county. I figured that was reasonable, it's only for 5 years and the amount that the city would loose wouldn't be that much.

Funny thing: the county mill rate is higher than what we would have charged. So the lands that recently came into the city will be paying more. I asked yesterday and it's about 39% more. I don't think the dollar value is all that big but still, if they are paying $139 at the county rate they would have been paying $100 at the city rate.


Related Posts with Thumbnails