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Coming Up: April 23

Council meets on Monday night. Highlights include Council's strategic plan, the property tax bylaw, and allocation of the 2017 operating surplus. 

To read what we are talking about, click here.

Following is a summary of the agenda items . While I aexplain my current take on topics, I am always open to having my mind changed. As always, any mistakes or opinions belong to me and me alone, not to City staff nor to the rest of Council.


Delegations

At the beginning of our Council meetings, anyone who wishes is invited to address Council. You never have to let us know you are coming to be allowed to speak, but we still appreciate when delegations give us notice. This week, two delegations have told us they will be coming to Council:

  • The Alberta Summer Games, presumably to speak to a motion being debated about the Games' legacy funding (see below)
  • A group asking Council to consider a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags

Tri-Municipal Industrial Partnership

The City has been working with the MD of Greenview and the County of Grande Prairie to establish a tract of ready-to-develop industrial land in the MD near Grovedale. As development happens within this zone, the MD will receive 50% of new tax revenue and the City and County will each receive 25%. As costs are incurred to create this zone, they are being split by the municipalities using the same ratios.

As this project evolves, it is becoming more and more formalized. The team working on it (which includes City Councillors) has created a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) it recommends our Councils approve. This will clarify the intent of the municipalities while also establishing a framework for the parties to make decisions. It will also allow for the eventual formation of a corporate entity.

I currently intend to vote in favour of approving this MOA. I am excited for the Tri-Municipal Agreement. It has potential to have a very positive impact on our regional economy. I also love to have the City working closely with our municipal neighbours- I hope it paves the way for greater collaboration in the future.


Council's Strategic Plan

Council has been working on a strategic plan. These plans are always important because they inform staff's business planning and key decision making. However, they are gaining an even greater importance as we move towards Priority Based Budgeting.  All corporate activities will be scored against how they meet the objectives laid out in this plan. The scores these activities receive will be used to determine budget allocations beginning in 2019.

Following is a picture of the proposed plan. You can click here to see a full size .pdf.

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There are two additions I hope to persuade Council to make to existing objectives (the words I propose adding are in bold):

  • Honours our indigenous community, other cultures, and the diversity of Grande Prairie and the region through the development of cultural initiatives to promote inclusiveness and pride in our community. To speak to this: because our City is on treaty land, I believe that our indigenous community should be overtly mentioned in our strategic plan. Further reasons to mention this community: over 10% of our general population identifies as indigenous and over 30% of our homeless population identifies as indigenous. Finally, in 2013 the City signed an agreement with the Grande Prairie Aboriginal Circle of Services to "to strengthen the relationship between the municipality and the community’s Aboriginal people."
  • Provides well-designed and safe feeling transportation systems and structures that are well-maintained, responsive to weather conditions and support mobility while meeting legislated standards. To speak to this: my biggest priority with transportation around the City is to ensure it is safe. However, I also think it is important that people feel safe on our roads. Sometimes it is appropriate to invest in improvements that may not have proven safety benefits but which enhance quality of life by making our streets feel safer.

Alberta Summer Games Legacy Funding

The Alberta Summer Games (ASG) are an exciting event which Grande Prairie is hosting this summer. They will attract youth athletes from all over the province to enjoy our region while competing in sport. The City is providing support through cash contributions, staff time, and the use of facilities.

As they do in other communities, the Games will be generating Legacy Funds meant to memorialize the games by enhancing local athletic facilities. They expect to contribute a minimum of $50,000 to City facilities. The ASG board has asked for permission to use these funds in advance of the event so that upgraded facilities can be enjoyed by our visitors this summer.

Projects that are at the top of their list are the rejuvenation of the Beach Volleyball courts in South Bear Creek Park and a throwing cage at Legion Field. The ASG are pursuing grants for facility upgrades (for example, they received one that will pay for most if not all of the Volleyball rejuvenation). However, by the time they find out if they have been successful in grant applications it will be too late to start work and complete it before the Games. The Games’ board is hoping to start the work now and use Legacy Funds for projects which do not receive full grant funding.

The Community Living committee has recommended that Council approve this proactive use of Legacy Funds and that administration be directed to work with the ASG to allocate funds. The intention is that Council would be given an update on how funds are used, but administration would be empowered to make specific project allocations.

I intend to support this recommendation.


Chartered Busses to New Catholic High School

This Spring, St. John Paul II opens- this is a new Catholic High School on the north end in Arbour Hills. The school board asked the City to provide full transit service to it. This is something the City does not currently have plans to do- the area doesn't meet current service thresholds, no current routes can be stretched to add a school stop in, and full service would have an annual cost of $115,000 plus a full-time employee.

When full transit service was not offered, the Catholic School Superintendent made another request to bus students in the Royal Oaks area to and from school. A 2 month pilot program is proposed beginning April 30th. This will cost approximately $14,000 and the school board has agreed to cover this cost.

I support this program. If we have the people, systems, and equipment to help a schoolboard provide more efficient or better service than it can provide on its own I am happy to see the City partner.

That being said, I do not view it as the City's role to transport all students to schools. It is the City's role to provide transit throughout the City where it is reasonably justified. We have a series of service standards in the Transit Master Plan. You can click here to see them. They outline the minimum ridership, population, cost recovery, etc... needed to justify a new transit route. I would be ok with relaxing these minimums slightly to service a school, but I am not comfortable with throwing them out all together. Until a school or an area around it meets these standards, I view it as the school board's role to pay for transit rather than the City's. In the meantime, I am supportive of us chartering our service out to school boards if this is the most efficient way for them to provide service.


Property Tax Bylaw

Council will likely be passing the bylaw needed to collect property taxes for 2018. These are based on a budget which was approved in the fall.

The proposed bylaw would see the municipal portion of an average tax bill go up by 2%. However, every taxpayer also pays a portion of taxes towards the province for education and towards the Grande Spirit Foundation. When these are added on, the average residential tax bill would go up by 0.8% and the average non-residential bill would go up by 1.8%. Below is a table from the proposed bylaw- it lays out how much is contributed by each type of property and the proposed milrates. 

Over the past year, the Alberta Consumer Price Index has gone up by 2.2% (source). I'm glad to see a tax increase that is below inflation. That being said, I think we have some room in the City for savings without sacrificing services. As we get to create our own budget cycle in the fall, I hope that Council will join me in supporting an even larger reduction of our spending compared to inflation.

The budget and tax rate was debated and set in the fall (to see how that discussion went and my votes, click here.). This is largely a house keeping bylaw needed to carry out a course of action Council already committed to. I currently intend to vote in favour of this bylaw.

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2017 Surplus and Audited Financial Statements

The 2017 Audited Consolidated Financial Statements will be presented to Council. I intend to vote in favour of accepting them. You can read through them by clicking here to read the last Corporate Services agenda package.

In 2017, the City had a surplus of $2,605,000. This represents 1.58% of the total budget for the City. It is very normal for a municipality to run modest surpluses since they are not allowed to ever run deficits. To ensure deficits don't happen happen, come budget time City staff forecast expenses as accurately as possible but are conservative in their revenue forecasts.

Council needs to decide what to do with the surplus. The recommendation is to put it into the Financial Stabilization Reserve. As of right now, I have no idea how I will be voting on this. I would love to hear your thoughts.

According to the Financial Stabilization Reserve Policy which has been approved by past Councils, this reserve should carry 10% of the current year's operating budget. For 2018, that would be $9,638,288. The policy also says that all surpluses should be put into this reserve.

The reserve currently has $6,206,047 in it. Council has approved up to $1,000,000 being drawn from the reserve over 2018. With the 2017 surplus added in, this would leave the reserve at $8,811,047 at the end of 2018- about $800,000 less than current policy says it should be.

Given current policies, it certainly makes sense to put the surplus here.

However, I don't know if I agree with the policy. I haven't given it deep study, but from what I know right now I feel that 10% of our operating budget is more than we need to have saved for Financial Stabilization. I also have the sense that we have other reserves which are over funded.

For the fall 2018 budget deliberations, Council has directed administration to review all of our reserve policies and to come up with more accurate forecasts to estimate what is needed in reserves. When that information is delivered, we'll be having a fulsome conversation about what Council's tolerance for risk is and how much should be saved today for future spending and for emergencies. When the Corporate Services committee discussed the 2017 reserve, it was suggested that we not deviate from current policy until that conversation happens. This is an argument I understand but am not sure I agree with.

Perhaps the money should be put into the reserve. But there are also other uses it could go towards. For example, it could be used to pay for Downtown Rehabilitation therefore lessening the debt taken out for it. It could also be used for basic infrastructure maintenance such as Road Rehabilitation.

For me, I am deciding where the burden of proof lies. By default, should I vote along with current policies and need convincing to go against them? If this is where I land, I'll vote "yes" to putting the surplus into reserves. Or by default, should I vote against putting into reserve more money than I think is necessary and need convincing to save more? If this is where I land, I'll vote "no" to putting the surplus into reserves.
 


Pinnacle Ridge Special Tax

Pinnacle has a large water fountain in Pinnacle Lake and a smaller water feature at the neighbourhood entrance. These features cost approximately $16,700 to operate. In 2010 the City was going to stop operating them. However, local residents gathered 700 signatures asking for a special neighbourhood levy to continue funding them. Council approved this, and has been charging the levy to nearby residences.

Right now this levy sits at $25/house. An annual bylaw needs to be passed every year to continue issuing it. Since the neighbourhood asked for this and I have not had anyone in it express disapproval to me, I currently intend to vote "yes" to this bylaw.


Infrastructure Maintenance

Council will be voting on three tenders for infrastructure maintenance. The cost for these will be coming out of already approved budgets. They are:

  • Road Rehabilitation & Overlay Phase 2- $2,714,399.78 exclusive of GST to Wapiti Gravel Suppliers Ltd. This work consists of milling off existing pavement to install a new asphalt surface. It also entails some storm sewer, curb, gutter, and sidewalk repair.
  • Road Rehabilitation  & Overlay Phase 3- $2,201,577.50 exclusive of GST to Knelsen Sand and Gravel Ltd. This is for Full Depth Reclamation work which involves pulverizing the existing pavement, mixing it into the base structure, adding cement and foamed asphalt to the base structure, compacting the base, and then putting a new paving surface on top.
  • Catchbasin Manhole Repairs- $655,219.24 exclusive of GST to Reco Construction Ltd..

    To see maps of where this work is happening, click here to read the Infrastructure and Protective Services agenda package.

Subdivision Time Extension Policy

When a developer subdivides land, they submit an application to the City. If it is approved, the province mandates that they have one year to provide the City with a detailed plan for the proposed subdivision. If this plan is endorsed by the City, they have another year to register it in a provincial Land Titles office.

Sometimes developers do not meet these deadlines, often due to not having enough market demand to continue with development. When they aren’t ready to proceed before a deadline, developers can apply to the City for extensions.

Currently, Council has delegated to staff the ability to approve a first extension but has retained the authority to approve subsequent extensions. The previous Council instructed staff to examine the policy. This led to a current recommendation that Council also delegate the authority to grant subsequent extensions.

I support this recommendation. We discuss subdivision approval extension requests almost every Council meeting. They are very routine, never get much dialogue, and so far have been receiving unanimous approval. I strongly believe that Council should delegate simple matters like this. Not forcing something to be presented to Council saves staff resources and makes processes move more quickly. It also gives Council more time to have the big-picture conversations which are needed to make our community a better place to live.


Monday looks like a busy night for Council!

While I have current positions on issues, I always approach meetings with an open mind. So, I welcome any questions or thoughts you might have.

I also am going back and forth on my vote for the 2017 reserve. I especially value any input you have on that.

Thanks for reading!

-Dylan