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Coming Up: Council and Committee of the Whole Meetings

Council meets Monday night at 6:30. The agenda includes approval of the Northern Lights Area Structure Plan and a Borrowing Bylaw to enable Council’s debt refinancing strategy.

There will also be a Council Committee of the Whole meeting on Wednesday. The purpose of this meeting is to determine Community Group Funding allocations for 2019.

Following is more information and my take on agenda items.

As always, any mistakes or opinions belong to me and me alone, not to Council or City staff.

If you would like to watch the meeting or read any of its supporting material for yourself, you can do so by clicking here.


Delegations

At the beginning of all City Council meetings, the community is invited to address Council. People are welcome to just show up, but we always appreciate a notice that they are coming. Click here for more information about attending meetings.

There are two delegations coming that I am aware of:

  • An ask for Council to undertake advocacy on behalf of the energy sector

  • A group requesting Council to consider taking action to deal with stray cats


Northern Lights Area Structure Plan

The City received about 99 quarter-sections of annexed land in 2016. It has been incorporating these new sections into its planning framework. The main way to do this is through the creation of Area Structure Plans (ASPs). These are high level planning documents which lay out a long-term vision for an area. ASPs guide future development, subdivision, and infrastructure decisions.

Management has spent the past 14 months consulting with land owners and others to create an ASP for the Northern Lights area. This is made up of 16 quarter-sections in the North East corner of the City.

The intent of annexation was to create opportunities for industrial development within the City. This plan enables this by allowing for various kinds of industrial as well as commercial development. At the same time, it has measures to consider neighbouring residential areas. It also includes two large recreation areas, a proposed trail network, and protection for wetlands and a creek.

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Click here to read the full plan and see the many attached maps.

I have a number of questions I’ll be asking. I’ll also listen very closely to any members of the public who wish to speak to this. That being said, I currently intend to support adoption of this plan as presented.

I attended the first and last open houses management hosted to talk about the Northern Lights ASP. I appreciated seeing staff listen and respond to questions and issues brought up. This plan enables the industrial development that drove annexation. At the same time, I’m excited that it considers future recreation needs- the northeast side of our City lacks them and I’d love to see that corrected someday.


Borrowing Bylaw

Council will be giving first reading to a Borrowing Bylaw. This is meant to allow for the refinancing of some City debt. I’ll almost certainly be voting “no.”

This restructuring might be worth pursuing. But only if it is used to pursue a strategy that will significantly enhance our community. I’m not convinced that Council’s current plan to use the increased cash flow to build reserves and deliver a 1.5% tax decrease is worth the cost. This seems like a very expensive way to accomplish some goals which could be achieved with other approaches.

To learn more about the refinancing plan and my take on it, click here.

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Community Group Funding

On Wednesday there will be a Council Committee of the Whole meeting to discuss funding allocations for community groups.

This year, the process has changed significantly. Funding to outside groups was previously given through many budgets and departments. There was no standardized method to consider requests and no transparent way to find out where all outside funding was going.

Council gave direction for this to change. Going forward, groups are being asked to fill out a standardized application. Funding will be given out of a single budget.

In 2018, $4,293,757.64 was given to Community Groups. This included over $2 million in library funding and $686,700 for the Disabled Transportation Society.

Council decided to keep the total Community Group Funding level the same for 2019. However, more groups applied for funding in 2019. This means that some groups will see a reduction in the amounts they receive despite the total pool remaining the same.

Click here to see the current recommendations before Council.

I need to take another read through these recommendations. I have many questions I need to ask, and I’ll be participating in debate with a very open mind. I don’t know where I will land on support for most groups. However, there are two organisations that I intend to push for increased funding to (which means I’ll need to support decreased funding to others):

  • Youth Emergency Shelter. This organisation houses youth experiencing homelessness. It also helps them navigate other available services and (when appropriate) reconcile with their families. It is filling a vital need in our community. In 2018, it received $110,000 from the City. It applied for the same amount in 2019, but the recommendation is to give it no funding. The big reason for this recommendation is that the group has large reserves. However, these reserves are being saved in order to build a new shelter that will increase the safety of youth and staff while doubling bed space. I’ll be advocating for $110,000 being granted to the Youth Emergency Shelter. Without this funding, its crucial building project will be set back significantly and its continued operations will be threatened.

  • Grande Prairie Sports Council. This organisation delivers support and development to regional sports groups. In 2018 it received $75,000 from the City. It asked for an increase to $108,000. This extra funding is to hire a second staff person so that the Sports Council can do more to help other organisations market themselves and develop partnerships and sponsorship. The recommendation is to only give it $72,145. I’ll be advocating for it to receive the full $108,000 request. By funding the Sports Council, we are supporting the dozens of organisations it helps. Our dollars are likely to multiply themselves as this funding helps local groups fundraise for themselves. There is also an important political consideration. The funding request was based on a Regional Recreation formula the City would like to see adopted by other municipalities. If it is, the City will start to receive support for its facilities that are used by non-City residents. It is hard for us to advocate for this formula if we don’t adhere to it ourselves.

Changes for Budget 2020

I do want to acknowledge that some groups have expressed frustration with this year’s application process. Changes were communicated in the summer. Some groups feel that the new application forms used did not allow them to adequately explain their ask. I’ve also heard concern about the transparency of how management arrived at its recommendations.

I do think that how we manage Community Group Funding had to change from previous years. I advocated strongly for it to be stripped out of departmental budgets so it could be allocated more transparently and with greater strategic thought. But this is a dramatic change, and it hasn’t gone as smoothly as it could. Council and management are aware of this, and it will be a better process for next year.

Some changes I’d like to see:

  • More ability for groups to explain their unique circumstances in applications.

  • A move to multi-year commitments from the City. This will decrease administrative time and give groups more certainty.

  • Splitting the pot into several categories prior to receiving applications. Before it makes specific allocations, Council should know how much it wants to spend in various areas. Categories could include youth, art and culture, public safety, sport, and economic development.

  • Scoring organisations against Council’s Strategic Plan using Priority Based Budgeting

  • Clear and public direction given to management as to how it should form its recommendations. Some questions Council needs to think through: Should we fund many groups with small amounts or a few groups with big amounts? How important are Key Performance Indicators and business plans? Do we prioritize supporting existing proven programs or resourcing new programs? What are our expectations around other funding sources?)

I hope that Council will give this significant attention and have a plan for how to allocate 2020 funds by summer.


That’s what is on our agenda for Monday. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

You can comment below. Or, you can contact me at dbressey@cityofgp.com or 780-402-4166. I'm happy to talk online or over the phone. I'm also always willing to setup a time to meet for coffee.

Thanks for reading!

-Dylan