Thursday, October 28, 2010

Help Run The City - Looking for Volunteers

Have you ever wanted to get involved in helping run the city? Maybe you have but didn't know where to start, or you weren't quite ready to start that campaign for Mayor or Councillor yet. Well, I've got just the thing for you!

The City regularly has openings for people who would like to serve on various committees and boards. The public members are an important part of how the committees operate and ultimately how the city is run.

Right now we're looking for people to help out on the following committees:


If you're interested in getting involved and taking an active role in what happens in our community; please, please, please submit an application! Council will be appointing public members at it's meeting on December 13th so get your application in soon!

You can download the whole application package here. It has information on what the various committees are as well as the form you have to fill in and send back to the city. Read through the package, see which committee suits your interest and then get involved by applying!

You can also complete the form online by going to here and clicking on "Boards & Committees Application Form".

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

An Orientation on Aquatera

As the new council gets to work there is a lot to learn. Each Councillor will be working to gain their bearings as they head into committee meetings next week. On top of things specific to individual committees like Public Works or Community Development there are all the broad topics that that can be even more complex.

One great example is Aquatera. New council members probably come to the table with opinions about the corporation and I'm sure they'll have heard things from the public through the course of the campaign.

Obviously as they go forward it will be important that they develop an understanding of what the company is, what it does and the principles under which it operates.

To help kick off that process the following presentation was shared yesterday as a part of Council's orientation:

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lane Closure – Wapiti Road at CN Tracks

News Release
October 26, 2010

Lane Closure – Wapiti Road at CN Tracks

Motorists are advised that Wapiti Road will be reduced to one lane traffic at the CN Tracks on Wednesday, October 27, for road maintenance and work on the medians. Construction is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. and is anticipated be completed by 12:00 p.m.

This lane closure will impact the flow of traffic for drivers travelling on Wapiti Road between 97 Avenue and 89 Avenue.

“This work is part of the continued maintenance of the CN Rail Crossing on Wapiti Road,” says Steve Kay, Project Engineer.

“We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and thank motorists for their patience as this work proceeds.”

Media enquiries may be directed to:
Steve Kay, P Eng
Project Engineer

First Post as Mayor

Last night was our organizational meeting where the new council was officially sworn-in.

The last few weeks have been quite a roller coaster; the suspense of the election, the euphoria after the win,  too many congratulations to count and then in to assuming my new position and getting ready for last night.

In between all that I've attended 2 events in support of United Way, 2 council orientations sessions, the GPRC President's Ball, my regular Rotary meeting and managed to find the coffee maker in city hall (with a little help).

Council is still in the middle of orientation with regular committee meetings starting next week and the 2011 budget review following hot on the heals of that with our first look at it on Nov 10th. Of note is that I've asked administration to move budget talks to City Hall where they can be webcast - it looks like this will be possible so we might have our first "first" of the new term.

Posts for the first while may be a little erratic but I do intend to find a way to work it into my regular schedule. ... right now though, I have to run downstairs for a review of council's Strategic Priorities chart.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Finally, a GREAT Question! I vent a little, be prepared.

I had a great question on Facebook and when I started a response it went from being a comment to a full-fledged note to finally this post. The issue is big enough that it deserves a full discussion and this is the kind of thing that hasn't happened in our election.

I've been bursting with a desire to address this but it's been difficult in the context of our campaign where candidates aren't really getting in to the issues in depth. Other candidates seem to be going for the "quick win" of calling for lower taxes or taking credit for things others have done but this is the kind of discussion that really needs to happen... so Derek, thank you for asking the question!

Derek Hall - Bill, what are your thoughts on next year's provincial review of the Municipal Government Act? Crucial for all cities in Alberta - what's GP's position and what should our strategy be?

Hey Derek, the MGA is important for cities and in fact all municipalities in the province. The province has not done a full review of it in some time - although they have announced a few times that they were going to. The problem is that the bill hasn't been updated much since it was introduced in the mid 90's.

The province has been "tinkering around the edges" in a number of ways and there have been a few private member's bills that have attempted to make changes. Most recently I traveled to the Leg to speak against one such bill - in the end our presentation was worthwhile and the committee is recommending the gov't scrap the bill. The point is that there needs to a full review of the bill to ensure it's setting a foundation for Alberta municipalities to be successful.

So, the first thing I think the new council should do is support a resolution from the City of Calgary that will be up for discussion at the AUMA convention after the election. The resolution basically calls on the provincial government to actually start that review process. (View the resolution here )From there the city needs to take an active roll in the review process, both through our provincial association (AUMA) and by doing our own lobbying with the minister and provincial staff.

One issue I'd like to see raised is municipal financial sustainability... the current reliance on property tax is out dated and no longer appropriate for funding the modern needs of communities. In the past property tax did make sense because the services municipalities provided were mostly related to public works and directly tied to property (think of things like roads, sidewalks ect.) Today's municipalities are being asked to provide a much broader range of service including recreation, affordable housing, social services and economic development - most of these don't have any clear connection to the actual property owned in the municipality.

On top of the increased demand for services Alberta's syatem has an underlying inequity that creates municipalities that are "more equal" than others before any home owner or commercial property receives a tax bill. Two specific issues that I'd like to address are:

- INEQUITABLE FUNDING Munis under 5000 population or who are rural (like counties) DON'T PAY FOR RCMP - the province pays it for them.... while cities like GP pay 98% of the cost for our cops. (More info on that from a 2007 post on my blog here ) This is a huge chunk of our budget and if we didn't have to pay for it we could lower property taxes.

- LINEAR TAXES help some municipalities keep residential/commercial property taxes ARTIFICIALLY LOW. This is a complex issue but the verrrrrry simple version is that some rural municipalities in the province have a GIGANTIC source of revenue that really doesn't require services - it's basically free money. Linear taxes are property taxes on things that may cross municipal boarders... think of things like gas pipelines and other utilities. In 2007 the City of GP collected just 2% ($1.3 Million) of it's tax revenue from Linear taxes... Meanwhile linear taxes made up 37% ($17 Million) of the County of GP's tax revenue. The County actually collected more from linear properties than they did from residential properties. Click through the presentation below for the details:

Add those two together (the county doesn't have to pay for police + they have the benefit of $17 million in linear taxes) and it's clear that the city cannot compete with the county on an even basis. To be clear, I'm not saying that the County of GP is at fault - they just have a tremendous advantage that most people don't know about.

These types of inequities are the things I think the City of GP has to lobby to change in any future revision of the MGA. The first step will be in getting the province to agree to actually do the review, the second will be to maintain a more active and involved lobbying schedule, which I've proposed.

It's a shame that the other candidates for mayor aren't ready or willing to really get into the issues like this. It's easy to campaign on simplistic 3 point platforms or by taking credit for projects started by others. I've tried to run on working towards a community vision and I've always been ready to really talk about the issues but there just hasn't seemed to be an opportunity for that - until now. Thanks Derek for asking and giving me a chance to start a very important discussion.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Prestigious $2.3 million research award to GPRC

Grande Prairie Regional College is among the eleven colleges which will receive Federal funding from Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to work with their communities and local businesses to get new innovations from campuses into the marketplace.  The Honourable Tony Clement, Minister of Industry, today announced a total of nearly $15 Million to develop a number of diverse, environmentally-friendly technologies, and strengthen industry, community and academic relationships.  Grande Prairie Regional College has been awarded $2,300,000 for an environmental research initiative led by instructor and researcher Dr. Weixing Tan, which will be conducted through the Centre for Research and Innovation (CRI) at the College.  

This initiative, entitled Pollutants to Products (P2P), is among those selected for funding following a nation-wide peer-reviewed competition.  The College, and its industry partners and stakeholders, have dedicated the last decade and $1.5 million developing sustainable local solutions to environmental issues. One project studies carbon and pollutants capture by microalgae; another investigates enhancement of reforestation and carbon sequestration; and the other diverts wastewater from waterways to a poplar industrial fibre production. Each project contributes to a reduction of the region's wastes and harnesses natural processes to turn atmospheric pollutants to useful products.

"Grande Prairie Regional College is very proud to be among the colleges selected for this funding," says Susan Bansgrove, Vice-President Academic.  "Dr. Tan has long been recognized for his applied research in areas related to sustainable forestry practices and the environment.  These projects have been very important for our region, and have also provided enormous opportunities for our students in recent years."

"I am very pleased and honoured to receive this highly-prestigious award," says Tan.  "It is the great support and contributions from the College, local industries and communities that makes it a reality. This award provides additional excellent opportunities to involve students and faculty in applied research, which we have been doing for many years. The involvement of students really enhances their learning and provides significant motivation in terms of their study at GPRC."

A news conference will be hosted at GPRC Grande Prairie on November 9th 2010, to provide more in-depth information about the research project and its partners, as well as to celebrate the announcement of the grant.

Chamber of Commerce Survey Responses

Around election time a number of different organizations want to hear candidates views on specific issues. I previously posted my responses to a survey from the CFIB and you can see my responses (and all the other candidates in GP) to the Canadian Cancer Society here.

This time around it's the Grande Prairie & District Chamber of Commerce. I haven't been able to find the responses posted to their website yet so I thought I'd post mine here.

1 – HEALTH CARE FACILITIES AND SERVICES The recent announcement of a $520-Million Dollar Health Care Facility has a potentially huge impact on our city and/or region. If elected, how would you advocate to ensure the needs of our community are met as detailed plans for the facility are determined.

The city must support the construction of the new hospital by ensuring the planning & development approval process is fast tracked, not just for the hospital site but for the whole of the college lands. In partnership with the province and GPRC we must also advocate to see the learning & education component of the project completed. Finally we need to work with community partners to ensure the provinces properly funds the operations & staffing of the facility

2 – REGIONAL COOPERATION The recently approved Intermunicipal Development Plan was touted as a big accomplishment of the current council. What are your thoughts on the plan? In your opinion what opportunities does it present for future development?

The plan is a step forward but we must recognize that actual annexation of county lands into the city is likely another 3 years way, and development on those lands could be even further off. Working through the annexation process must be a major focus of the city over the coming term. Council must; ensure landowners and businesses are engaged in the process; develop estimates of what additional costs will come with the lands, and begin to actively encourage servicing and development of the lands.

3 – TAXES & UTLITIES There is a perception by some in the business community that the City is not as ‘business-friendly’ as some of our surrounding communities - a stigma that could result in the potential loss of future city developments. What is your plan to retain existing businesses and attract new economic development to our community?

My goal is for the city to be recognized as the most customer orientated municipality in the province. The City of Grande Prairie can has already implemented the BizPal program which substantially reduces “red tape” by allowing businesses to get information from 3 levels of government at once. In the area of development we are working to revise our development permitting process to make it faster and more efficient for customers – I support this and will continue seek ways to streamline city processes. I also believe the city has a roll in advocating on behalf of businesses in our region when it comes to trying to address the costs of doing business in our region. In particular we need to work with the province to address the high cost of electricity which impacts homeowners and businesses alike.

4 – TRANSPORTATION What is the greatest transportation concern currently facing our city? What would you do, if elected, to address the issue?

On-going maintenance and repair of our city roads will always be the greatest transportation concern for our community. In addition to maintaining our current level of investment in road maintenance, I believe we need to improve the design standards for new roads and consider "front-ending" development of major arterials in strategic locations (such as 116th street south of 84th avenue and 84th Street on the east side). Outside of the automobile the city must work to see that all city streets are "Complete Streets" that are useful and accessible for cars, pedestrians and cyclists. We also need to continue to budget for the full implementation of the Transit Master Plan which will improve our public transportation system.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Eastlink Mayoral Interview

Eastlink is Grande Prairie's local cable television provider. I went in to the studio for a short Q & A last week. Here's the interview:

Check Eastlink's Youtube channel for interviews with the other candidates.

Monday, October 4, 2010

CFIB Survey Response

I just submitted my response to a survey sent out to mayoral candidates by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).

I don't always agree with the CFIB. In particular I disagree with them on their position on franchise fees (Bill 203) and I said as much when I presented at the Legislature committee hearing a few weeks ago in Edmonton.

Having said that there are areas I can see common ground and I appreciate their efforts to advocate on behalf of their memberships.

Below are the questions CFIB asked and my responses. There are some areas where I've added information for this blog post - they are noted in italics.

If elected as mayor:

1.Will you implement a multi-year plan to reduce the difference between what businesses and residents pay in municipal property tax based on the same assessed value?


Comments: Urban municipalities in Alberta cannot afford to do this. I believe the focus should be on creating a regulatory environment that welcomes new business development. As new properties are built the tax burden will be diffused across more properties. An additional option would be see Linear Property Taxes pooled regionally and distributed on a per capita basis with in the regional catchment area. This would allow urban municipalities to reduce the tax burden on small business. In my opinion, this is a huge inequity that allows some municipalities to keep residential and commercial property taxes artificially low. I'll be doing a full post on it this week.

2.Will you work to limit future growth in operating spending by the municipal government to a sustainable benchmark such as inflation plus population growth?


Comments: I have committed to ensuring that the 2012-2014 budget cycle follows this formula.

3.How do you plan to reduce the amount of municipal red tape that small business owners in your community must deal with?

Explain: The City of Grande Prairie has already implemented the BizPal program which substantially reduces “red tape” by allowing businesses to get information from 3 levels of government at once. In the area of development we are working to revise our development permitting process to make it faster and more efficient for customers – I support this and will continue seek ways to streamline city processes.

4.Do you support new taxation powers for municipalities?


Comments: At this time the best solution to aid in municipal financial sustainability is to secure a legislated share of current tax revenues from other orders of government. Additionally, Linear Tax property revenues should be reexamined. My suggestion would be that they be pooled with in regional catchment areas and distributed within the region on a per capita basis.

5.Do you support the municipal government being subject to external, independent, value-for-money operational and financial audits?


Comments: The current Municipal Government Act already provides the minister with all the tools needed to require audits, of any kind, from every municipality.

6.Tell us about the other ways you plan to make your municipality more small business-friendly?

Comments: I believe our local government can add value for the business community by:
- Televising Budget meetings (and archiving on the web)
- Opening City Data to the public to allow businesses to make use of it
- Helping identify and address the cost barriers to doing business in the north, with particular focus on transportation infrastructure & electricity costs.


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