Thursday, September 27, 2007

$80m Facility, Without A Tax Increase

How do you build an eighty million dollar facility with out having to increase taxes to pay for it?

That's exactly what council will be discussing at 9:30 this morning; how do we build the Aquatics Centre and what will the impact be on the tax paying homes and businesses in the city?

Here's the details that are in the staff report to council...

$80m (The full Aquatics Centre, with the first portion of the fieldhouse)

Aquatics Reserve (Money we've been saving up for this project)
Aquatera dividend (from our Shares in Aquatera for 2008, 09, 10)
2006 Profit from Growth in the Tax Base (2008, 09, 10)
2006 Profit from Growth in the Tax Base (2009, 10 - in previous years was going to Library/Gallery)
2007 Profit from Growth in the Tax Base (2008, 09, 10)
Contributions from businesses, other municipalities & fundraising
2008 Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding
2009 Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding
2010 Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding

$41.135m Sub-Total

$39m Borrowing (Also called debt, or "the mortgage")

$80m Total

I know the picture isn't all that clear just looking at the chart. I know I still had some questions so I'll try to answer some of them in case you are asking yourself the same thing.

How much are the payments on that $39 mortgage? You'll have to increase taxes to make the payments won't you?

Well, no actually. The debt servicing (the mortgage payments if you like) are $3.1m per year over 20 years. The Profit from Growth in the Tax Base and the Aquatera dividend that we used above for construction come to $4.47 million per year. After construction is done in late 2010 we can use those moines to pay the mortgage and still have $1.37 million left over.

Ok, what about how much it cost to operate the building? I heard the Leisure Centre looses money and this Aquatics Centre is even bigger and more expensive to run so it will cost more. You'll have to increase taxes to pay for that loss won't you?

Actually the business plan for the building says that it will run at a loss of $1.31 million in the first year (that's the same as it costs to run the Leisure Centre), in the second it will improve and only cost $948,500 and in the third year it's practically break-even at $36,950. So, we can use that left over $1.37 million from above to off-set the operating losses in the first few years. The estimates of memberships sales we are building this on are pretty conservative in my opinion (3500 sold in the first year and through presales then 5150 in the second, 6890 in the third and 8190 in the fourth year).

The meeting is starting in a few minutes, I'll have to finish up later.....

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Safeway Looking to Give Away Money!

I received this letter by email and thought the best way to share it would be here.

"September 21, 2007

Mr. Bill Given
PO Bag 4000
Grande Prairie, AB
T8V 6V3

Dear Mr. Bill Given ,

RE: $3.4 Million Donated - Charities Wanted

Since its inception in 1998, the Safeway We Care program has raised over $20 million for local charities. This year alone the program presented a record-breaking $3.4 million to charity. We are now seeking more charities to support.

The focus of Canada Safeway’s 2008 We Care program is on children and families living with physical and developmental disabilities. Our goal is to raise money and awareness, helping those living with disabilities live life to their full potential.

This November the employees of each store will select their partner cause for next year's campaign, scheduled to run January to April, 2008. Consistent features of selected causes will be a large volunteer base to support three national fundraising days, clear illustration of how the dollars will be used, and demonstration as to how the cause is relevant to the community the store serves.

We are hopeful that you might be able to share the enclosed application with those in your community that may fit with the above criteria. More information and applications are also available at your local Safeway or by visiting Applications can be dropped off at any Safeway prior to the deadline of November 3, 2007.

Thank you for your continued support of Canada Safeway and our mutual desire to make this community a better place. For more information, don't hesitate to call us at (403)730-3380.



Joy Syratt
Safeway We Care Coordinator

The application wasn't attached to the email but it is easy to find on the Safeway website... actually to save you a little work, it's right here. So, if you are a charity that is looking for some support and funds for programs or services aimed at children or families with physical or developmental disabilities. Get your application in with Safeway before November 3rd.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Please Sir, Can I Have Some More?

The province has published the numbers on it's new Municipal Sustainability Initiative program (MSI). The goal of MSI is to give more money to municipalities and it is greatly appreciated...

... but ...

I'm at a loss for words when you see the unfairness in the way the money is split up. Thankfully, Kevin Crush at the Daily Herald Tribune is never at a loss for words - his article says it all. (The bold is added by me)


It means tens of millions of dollars for Grande Prairie but after taking a closer look at the numbers it appears to be weighted in favour of rural municipalities with a strong industrial base, such as the County of Grande Prairie.

Over 10 years, Grande Prairie is expected to receive $134.6 million under the formula which is distributed on the basis of 48 per cent due to population, 48 per cent to assessed tax base, and four per cent to length of roads.

That same formula will give the county $79.3 million.

But when the totals are broken down into pure per capita distributions the county, with its high tax base but lower population, over 10 years will receive $4,414 per person while the city will get just $2,680 per person.


This is not fair to Albertans who live in cities. This is a clear example of rural municipalities getting more and there are many examples of how they have to pay less. Here's one I've written about.

I'm not in any way saying that rural municipalities deserve less than urban ones, I just think we should all be treated equally.

Community Energy Plan

Last night at council ( webcast here - high speed internet recommended) I reported on my visit to Yellowknife for the Prospects North conference.

In my report to council I mentioned that there were some very good ideas at conference and that I would be bringing them forward for use in Grande Prairie. The largest and potentially most important of these ideas is the Community Energy Plan.

The City of Yellowknife had a booth at the conference trade show promoting their Community Energy Plan, which they've been working on for a number of years. I stopped by and had the pleasure of speaking to Mark Henry, who is the Energy Coordinator for the city. He explained the process that the community went through in collecting the data, developing the plan and how they are working on moving forward.

One important key was the broad participation from the community from the very start. Yellowknife's Community Energy Planning Committee was comprised of members representing; City Council (2), Power & Utility Companies (2), Environmental Groups (1), Chamber of Commerce (1), School Board (1), NWT Territorial Government (2), The Public (1).

The thing that struck me most was the poster that he had at the booth, which shows all the energy inputs for Yellowknife and where that energy is used. It's the City's Energy Profile. Mark was nice enough to email me the poster, which you can see below. (click the picture to see it larger)

Looking the poster anyone can very quickly see that:

- 60% of the energy used in Yellowknife comes in the form of Fuel Oil for heating
- The community spends roughly $57m on Fuel Oil yearly
- Fuel Oil is responsible for 71% of the greenhouse gasses produced in the community

Collecting this data is only the first step in developing a plan. The next part is deciding on actions but having these facts so clearly stated means that, wether your interest is in reducing greenhouse gasses or saving money, you know the best place to start is by working to find alternatives to fuel oil.

What would we find out by doing the same work in Grande Prairie?

I can see many ways that this type of information could be useful for the City of Grande Prairie, local businesses and residents. But, first, someone has to get the ball rolling and I'd like to do just that. Unfortunately, last night was our last full council meeting before the election. So, I committing that in the new term I will work to see the City (with community partners) begin the process of developing a Community Energy Plan.

My hope would be that the City would lead the process and invite members of the public, business and environmental groups to participate. The funding for the development of the plan would come in large part from grants like FCM's Green Municipal Fund with a smaller portion coming from the City of GP.

Monday, September 24, 2007

100 Posts

It's been six months since I started this blog. Over that time I've covered a variety of topics under the 45 different tags you see on the right side. I've invited you to come along with me Calgary for an Affordable Housing conference, to Yellowknife for the Prospects North conference and to meetings with other local municipalities.

Over the past six months the site has had 4800 hits from just under 3000 visitors. I've run four different polls looking for feed back on local issues, these have received votes from just under 200 people. This information is extremely valuable, for example in the latest poll, 80% of the voters told me that they'd be willing to pay for curbside blue box service.

The feedback has been great, aside from the 30 Comments related to topics discussed here I've had more and more people mention that they've visited and found the information useful.

Cultural Centre Construction Update

Before tonight's council meeting started I thought I'd jog across the street to grab a quick picture to give you an idea of how construction is going on the Cultural Centre (Library/Art Gallery).

As you can see the foundation is just about finished. The huge area underneath is going to be mostly parking in an effort to save some of the valuable green space at the Montrose site. If we wouldn't have had this we would have had to provide almost double the surface parking stalls.

If you'd like to read my other posts on the Cultural Centre they are here.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Just Like Being There

I thought I'd post pictures of the booths in Peace Country row, so you can see the presence that our region has here in Yellowknife. This idea of putting all of these booths together to make a bigger impact was started three or four years ago when the City invited a whole bunch of regional organizations to come together for the last Prospects North here in YK. Since then we've done the same thing at shows in Edmonton and Whitehorse.

The new City booth which is just being used in it's very first trade show. Notice the floor - it's an aerial photo of the whole city with markings showing how the city limits have moved over the years.

Right next door to the City is GPRC.

Down the row is the Town of Valleyview

... and High Level. With Mayor Mike Mihaly on the right.

Rounding out this side of the isle is an open booth which we turned in to a relaxing area that is promoting the Peace through the Branding the Peace Logo.

On the other side of the isle is the GP Chamber

Town of Peace River

In this booth the Mighty Peace Tourism Association is representing PREDA, the Town of Fairview, the MD of Fairview, Hines Creek and a couple of others.

... and finally, right across from the City of GP is the Grande Prairie Regional Tourism Association.

So, now you can feel just like you where here with us in Yellowknife, promoting the Peace Country - you just didn't get to enter your name in for the door prize draws.

Don't Cross The Blue Line

Last time I was up here in Yellowknife I noticed the blue line at our hotel right as soon as I walked to the door. It didn't take long before I found out what it was. I thought this time around I'd grab my digital camera and snap a quick picture to share with you....

Here's the blue line at the door to the mulitplex where the conference is hosted. See it down there?

What's it for? Look closer at the sign next to the door.....

That blue line is the distance that smokers have to stay away from the door. Thats how smoking is handled in the NWT.

People You Meet At Conferences

The conference here in Yellowknife has been great so far. There have been some excellent presentations on economic development and on fostering the "Next Big Idea". I'll try to write about some of those later on but I wanted to post a note about one person I met at lunch yesterday.

I sat at a table with GP Chamber of Commerce President, Dan Pearcy and a gentleman named Kevin Shoults. Kevin is an exhibitor at the trade show, he is manning the booth for Trafco Canada, the company that is installing GP's new red light traffic cameras. It was a great chance to pass on some of the questions people have asked me since the units started to go up.

On Pictures - the cameras record video (things to cover your plate or make it blur in a flash won't work).

On Privacy - the cameras do not record the faces of anyone in the car. Cars, the overview of the intersection, and the license plate only.

On Accuracy - each "violation" is reviewed by a human three times. Once is a quick check to make sure that the vehicle isn't an ambulance or police car or the back end of a semi-truck. Next it's reviewed by enforcement to look at the actual circumstances of the infraction. They check the video to see if there were special circumstances - any icy road, or moving through to get out of the way of an emergency vehicle. Then it goes to registries to confirm the license plate number and finally back to enforcement to send out the ticket.

On Features - the video that is recorded can be set up to be on the web. So that you can log in with your ticket number and review the video yourself before deciding to pay or fight the ticket. I'm not sure if we were planning on using this feature but I think we should and I'm going to talk to staff about it when I get back.

So, sitting with Kevin at lunch was a pretty great example of serendipity.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Off To The Real North

I'll be getting up a little extra early tomorrow to catch a plane to Yellowknife for the Prospects North Conference.

From the City's Media Release:

City Delegation Prospects Future Opportunities

Three members of City Council and economic development staff are part of a Peace Country delegation participating in Prospects North 2007 next week in Yellowknife.

Themed The Next Big Thing, the Sept. 18-20 event is focused on the economic future of the North. It will examine untapped economic potential in areas such as mineral resources, power generation, communications technology, manufacturing, as well as cultural and environmental businesses.

“We need to continually explore ways to further diversify while supporting our existing economic generators,” says Jean-Marc Lacasse, City of Grande Prairie’s Manager of Economic Development.

“There is a strong foundation in our community based on oil and gas, forestry, agriculture, our position as a regional shopping centre and as a general economic hub. Now is the time to identify other opportunities for growth to complement these sectors.”

Prospects North is a great opportunity to connect with other community representatives from Alberta, the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut, says Lacasse. “This is a key event as it’s the largest business and investment conference in the North, giving us a significant showcase for the city and region.”

Prospects North is expected to attract 500 delegates and 100 trade show exhibitors. A ‘regional village’ will represent communities and economic development agencies throughout the Peace Country.

The regional village is actually a number of organizations with booths, side by side by side making what basically turns into a Peace Country feature area. In addition to the City other Peace County groups in attendance will be:

Grande Prairie & District Chamber of Commerce
Grande Prairie Regional College
Grande Prairie Regional Tourism Association
Town of High Level
Town of Peace River
Town of Valleyview

It's a great way to sell our region. Myself, Alderman Croken and Alderman Heath are representing City Council at the conference.

Nomination Day

Well, today was nomination day for the October 15th Municipal election. All the candidates have submitted packages and we ended up with 16 people running for Alderman and 2 running for Mayor. Here's the alphabetical list with the candidate's websites that I've been able to find. This should be considered "unofficial" as candidates have 24 hours to withdraw their names.

Mayoral Candidates

Wayne Ayling

Dwight Logan

Aldermanic Candidates

Gladys Blackmore

John Croken
Website Not Available

Elroy Deimert

Augustine Ebinu
Website Not Available

Lorraine Ehlert
Website Not Available

Bill Given
Website ummmm - you're on it.

Alex Gustafson

Margaret Heath
Not Available

Danny Hynes
Not Available

Kevin McLean
Not Available

Yad Minhas
Not Available

Lorraine Nordstrom
Not Available

Lorne Radbourne

Helen Rice
Not Available

David Story

Dan Wong

In the County of GP there will only be races in four of the 9 nine wards. Everett McDonald, Leanne Beaupre, Jack O'Tool, Richard Harpe and Mary Ann Eckstrom had no one run against them so they all keep their spots on council without even having to fire up the election machine. Not so for the following divisions where incumbents will face challengers:

Div 2
Kurt Balderson (Inc)
Terry McNutt
Sharon Lynne Nelson

Div 5
Pat Jacobs (Inc)
Norm Hanson

Div 6
Dalton Longson (Inc)
Lois Dueck
Alice McKay

Finally, in Div 7 three candidates, Fronk Lowen, Andy Hommy, & Stephen Blum, will look to take over the seat vacated by the retirement of Brock Smith.

The last bit of election news that I've heard is that Leona Hanson is running for mayor in Beaverlodge. I know Leona from her days at SMEDA (now known as Community Futures) and I think she is certainly up to the task.

If you know of a candidate website that I have missed please forward it on to me so I can include it in the list.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Fight Crime - With Card Parties!?

The City of Grande Prairie and the Community Crime Prevention Committee are brining a special guest speaker to the city for a FREE presentation tonight!

Jim Diers is an internationally renowned expert in fighting crime by building stronger neibourhoods.

Jim contends that safe neighbourhoods tend to be places where people know and support one another. His work with the City of Seattle has helped neighbours build a stronger sense of community by facilitating more than 3000 neighbourhood self-help projects. These projects, including community gardens, murals, a revitalized business district, an Eritrean community center, and a gigantic troll have newly engaged tens of thousands of people with their communities and with their government. Not only have these projects transformed the physical appearance of neighborhoods, but they have resulted in greater safety.

If you want some great ideas on how to make your neibourhood safe make sure you attend this FREE presentation tonight!

Event Info
Title: Jim Diers:Fighting Crime with Gardens, Dragons, Trolls, and Card Parties
Start: 09/12/07 7:00PM
End: 09/12/07 9:00PM
Location: Golden Age Centre - 10222 101 Ave.

For More Info: (780) 882-7813
Note: This is a free presentation, but space is limited - please call to register

For more information on Jim Diers, please visit his Website

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Firefighting Big Picture

News Release
Sept. 10, 2007

City Reaches Three-Year Agreement With Firefighters

The City of Grande Prairie and the Grande Prairie Firefighters Association (the GPFA) have a new collective agreement.

City Council Monday night approved the pact, which is effective from Jan. 1, 2007 to Dec. 31, 2009. It provides wage adjustments of 5.5 per cent this year, 5.25 per cent in 2008, and 5 per cent in 2009.

With 10 years of service, firefighters will receive a one per cent adjustment. After both 20 and 30 years, members of the association will receive a further one per cent increase.

An additional 10 cent shift premium is scheduled in 2008 and 2009. The agreement affects 55 employees.

“We are pleased to finalize this agreement with our firefighting staff as a foundation to strengthening relations with these employees,” says Ken Anderson, lead negotiator and City Financial Services Director. “This contract is reflective of other agreements in the province.”

“Our association ratified the contract on Sept. 6,” says Steve Larsen, president of the GPFA. “With a longer-term agreement now in place, we hope to see increased staffing and facilities in the future to service Grande Prairie as it continues to grow.”

My Comment - This is great to get a long term deal with the firefighters. In the past it seemed like we were in a never ending cycle of negotiations that were always one year behind. With this deal the firefighters can focus their concentration on providing safety and security to residents and administration and council can focus on the strategic issues that will be coming in the next few years.

The most important of these strategic issues will be how (and if) we work with the County of Grande Prairie on a regional fire system. In my opinion it's in everyone's interest to pool our resources (ie money) and create a regional system, rather than two independent systems that compete for the same manpower and duplicate services. The caveat here is that all parties should contribute to the system on a fair basis. That "fair" contribution might not be an exactly equal dollar amount but I think it needs to be based on a formula that treats everyone equally.

Look at it this way: The Total Assessed Value of the City of Grande Prairie is about $6 Billion. That number is the value of all the "stuff" in the city including houses, businesses and land is the total dollar value of the assets that the fire department is responsible for protecting.

The Total Assessed Value of the County of Grande Prairie is $4.5 Billion. Not that big a difference really, it's about a 3 : 2 ratio. So when we are talking about property that is being protected the City and the County are on very similar footing, shouldn't that be reflected in how much each pays in to provide fire protection?

Say the total cost of fire protection for the whole region is $12 Million per year - wouldn't it make sense that the City should pay $8 million and the County $4 million? Of course there are lots of other factors that come in to it but that's what I mean when I say any system should be based on a formula that is fair.

Anyhow, with the approval of the new contract with our firefighters we can focus all of our energies on these "big picture" sort of issues.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Red Light Cameras Soon

Many people have noticed the additions being made to many GP intersections - red light cameras will be running in the city soon. Questions about the system have started popping up on my FaceBook Group and group member William V has even posted some pictures of the new units - this is one of his below....

This exchange between Branden and myself might be of interest to more people in the city so I thought I'd share it...

"Branden Johnson Posted - I'm just wondering, are they going to publish some info on how these are going to work in the paper? or online. When will it take your picture, if your in the intersection when the light is green waiting to turn, and waiting, and waiting, then the light turns yellow and some idiot runs the yellow/red are you going to get a ticket too? or will it allow you to proceed un-ticketed? I'm gonna be angry if I get a ticket without knowing all the facts. Angry at myself for not finding out."

"Bill Given Replied - The city has published info about the cameras, including where they are, and how they work. You can check it all out here:

Here's the key point on "how"

"5. How does the red light camera enforcement system work?

The system uses multiple cameras placed at the intersection to record video evidence of the red light runners. Using time and distance calculations, the system predicts that a vehicle will run a red light and then activates three independent video cameras. These cameras capture video evidence of the rear of the vehicle, the license plate, and a video showing the vehicle behind the stop line while the light is red and then proceeding through the intersection while the light is still red."

So, it looks like if you get "trapped" in the intersection the system should take account of that.

Having said that, it's probably best to wait behind the stop line rather than in the intersection. I always have a hard time seeing around people coming the opposite direction who "creep" out into the intersection to turn. If everyone stayed behind the stop line I don't think we'd have as many close calls.

Anyhow, there's your info on Red Light Cameras!"

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Transit Questions

You might have noticed I'm on FaceBook . More and more I'm getting to see it as an invaluable new tool for communicating with people. I started up a group in support of my campaign and to get feedback from residents on what they feel are the important issues facing Grande Prairie. So far the group has over 300 members and there are twelve threads active on the discussion board, which I think is great!

On of the threads was focused on transit service in the city and it started off with this post from Bruce Hawryluk:

Posted By Bruce Hawryluk - "My concern is how inconvenient the public transit system in the city is. I am going back to college this fall, and I can see GPRC from my house in Pinnacle Ridge, but to use the city system I have to walk almost a kilometer, and then it is almost an hour ride to the college. I can't really bike becaue then I'd be going down Wapiti Road at 8 am and that would be suicide. Come winter it will be hard to walk because there is no trails at all down Wapiti Road. The trail that does leave Pinnacle Ridge mysteriously dead ends into a swamp just outside the gates. It is very hard to do anything but drive to the college, and while trying to keep gas costs and carbon footprint down, I am finding the current transit system to be no help. I think that it needs a large overhauI. I see no need for everything to go down to the Town Centre mall still, as nothing actually happens there. If the city would come up with a better master plan we might see more than 2 people on a bus at one time."

My response to Bruce....

Posted by Bill Given - "Bruce you are exactly right - the whole thing needs to be improved and there needs to be a better plan. Thats exactly why we are doing a total rewrite.

There's a [news] report on it here

One of the cool things is that we are working with the school boards to see if we might be able to integrate the school system with the city transit system and improve things for everyone."

How's that for direct access to your elected representative?

In addition to my support for the transit master plan rewrite and implementing the recommendations that will come from it I'm also in support of using bio-diesel in the city's fleet. Other municipalities are having success with this technology and I think it's something we should implement here as well.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Another Candidate

Another day, another announcement!

Today at about 2:30 Dan Wong announced that he will be running for council. I've known Dan for quite a while, both through Rotary and the men's basketball league - I've also seen him hosting the Chinese New Year celebrations more than once. He owns his own business in I.T. so it's no surprise that he's got a website up and running on the day of his announcement.

You can find Dan's website below or on the right side of this page along with the other candidates who have them so far.

Once again, if you are interested in running I've previously posted the info on how to go about it here . You only have until September 17th to make up your mind - that's the day that your nomination form has to be handed in.

Here's the alphabetical list of announced candidates again:

Gladys Blackmore

Elroy Deimert

Lorraine Ehlert
Not Available

Bill Given
Website ummmm - you're on it.

Kevin McLean
Not Available

Lorne Radbourne

Helen Rice
Not Available

David Story

Dan Wong

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Updated Candidate List

Just the other day I thought I had the candidate list up to date, then I went to a Rotary meeting on Friday. I had a chance to sit next to Lorraine Ehlert who has declared that she is going to seek a seat on council. I had to admit to her that I had missed the announcement, which surprised me a little. She said that she had only spoken to one of the radio stations so far to make it public. I imagine that you'll hear more about her in the media next week.

As I mentioned in my previous post, there are still a couple people who were thinking of running that I had coffee with - they still aren't on this list but one will be making his announcement Tuesday and I think the other might have been aiming for the 10th.

So, here is the updated list of those who have officially announced their intentions, in alphabetical order, with their website (if available) so you can check everyone out. I imagine the two current council members still unaccounted for will announce fairly soon: John Croken & Margaret Heath. If those two both choose to run plus the other two I've met with and let's say at least one more (I'm going on more than a hunch here) we could have a field of 13 running for the 8 Alderman positions.

That's a healthy election and great news for Grande Prairie! If you are interested in running I've previously posted the info on how to go about it here .

Gladys Blackmore

Elroy Deimert

Lorraine Ehlert
Not Available

Bill Given
Website ummmm - you're on it.

Kevin McLean
Not Available

Lorne Radbourne

Helen Rice
Not Available

David Story


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