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Coming Up: Jan 14

Council meets Monday night at 6:30.

The most significant agenda item: Council is currently pursuing a debt refinancing strategy which will impact our community for decades. Council may pass the bylaw which enables refinancing on Monday. I am strongly opposed to the current plans and hope Council will hear more from the community before debate (both from people who are for and against it).

Other agenda items include:

  • Sign Bylaw Ammendments: among other things these would increase the allowable size of billboards and allow limited third parting advertising on electronic freestanding signs

  • Neighbourhood Enhancement Grants and Community Group Funding: Council will be discussing amounts to award to local organisations for community projects

  • Aquatera Dividends for 2018

Additionally, on Tuesday the Community Living Committee will be discussing the Grande Prairie Storm and possible City assistance.

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. The City will post the highlights of Council’s decisions here.


Borrowing Bylaw

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

This restructuring will increase the City’s cash flow by ~$3 million for 11 years. However, it will incur an immediate stop loss payment of over $3.1 million and will lead to ~$18 million of increased interest payments over the next 30 years.

This restructuring might be worth pursuing. But only if it is used to pursue a strategy that will significantly enhance our community or our financial situation in the long-term. 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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Sign Bylaws

In December, Council discussed possible Land Use Bylaw amendments concerning signs. Council decided to postpone this debate to allow the for a discussion at committee and for the public to have more time to weigh in.

Since then, I haven’t received much feedback from the public. However, I did participate in the Infrastructure and Protective Services Committee discussion. I currently support all proposed amendments. But I am still thinking hard about the ones relating to size.

Following is what is proposed:



Billboard Size

Proposed amendments would increase the maximum height of billboards by 0.5m (to 3.6m or roughly 12’) and the maximum width by 1.2m (to 7.3m or roughly 24’).

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The main intention behind this change is to accommodate electronic message displays. These displays come in modules that click together (kind of like lego). Due to the size of these modules, it is often impossible to build an electronic billboard to the exact 3.1m x 6.1m (roughly 10’ x 20’) maximum size laid out in our Land Use Bylaw. Since they can’t go any bigger than this, modules force companies to build slightly smaller signs. However, there are large clients that will not advertise on anything smaller than 10’ x 20’. Local companies with smaller signs are unable to bring this money into our community. Increasing the allowable size of our billboards will allow companies with local assets to go after those larger advertising contracts.

I do have concerns about aesthetics and the proliferation of advertising in our community. I don’t like the idea of bigger billboards. At the same time, I also don’t want to see our local economy lose out on large advertising spending due to a difference of 0.5m x 1.2m.

I currently support this proposed increase to allow local billboards to meet the 10’ x 20’ minimum many advertisers demand. However, I think it would be difficult to convince me to support further increases in the future.

As I said above, this is also an amendment I’ve struggled wrapping my head around and am still thinking about. I’m not completely set on my vote yet. I welcome any feedback you have.



Third Party Advertising on Electronic Freestanding Signs

Third Party Advertising refers to a sign marketing businesses, events, or services not on the premises of the sign itself. Currently it is only permitted on billboards and temporary event signs. Third Party Advertising is not currently allowed on Freestanding Signs (ie: stand-alone signs that are owned by a business on the property of the business).

Proposed amendments would make Third Party Advertising possible on Freestanding Signs with the following restrictions:

  • The sign and the business, organization or event it advertises must be within 300m and on the same side of an arterial roadway

  • Third Party Advertising cannot be located within 100m of another Freestanding Sign with Third Party content

  • Third Party Advertising cannot be located in the Central Commercial District (ie: downtown)

  • Third Party Advertising can only be displayed on the electronic portion of a Freestanding Sign

I currently intend to support this. It is good for industry as it allows advertising to be carried out more efficiently. It is also good for community aesthetics as it encourages multiple businesses to use a single sign rather than each getting their own.

Worth noting: our bylaw as it currently stands does not consider marketing “community, cultural, athletic charity, arts or similar not-for-profit groups or events” to be Third Party Advertising. There are no proposals to change this. That means that these can be advertised on Electronic Freestanding Signs no matter where they are located.


Electronic Signs

Current rules only allow electronic message displays to use 25% of a freestanding sign’s area. The proposed amendments would allow them to use 50%.

The current rules say that copy must be static and frames must last at least 6 seconds. Amendments will allow City engineers to impose a longer duration based on road speed, sign height, and collision data.

I currently support both these amendments.


Electronic Fascia Signs

Current rules only allow for electronic message displays placed on exterior building walls to be placed on the secondary walls of a building. This was designed to limit the proliferation of electronic fascia signs. However, it created problems for buildings containing multiple primary walls: they did not have anyplace to put electronic fascia signs.

Proposed amendments would allow electronic fascia signs on the primary walls of downtown buildings which occupy a corner lot or which have two primary building walls.

Amendments would also allow for an electronic fascia sign on a primary building wall within Arterial Commercial and General Industrial districts provided that:

  • It is at least 200m from any billboard, freestanding sign, or fascia sign containing an electronic display

  • There is a non-electronic fascia sign advertising the same business located on the same wall

I currently support both these amendments.



Housekeeping Changes

There are also a number of proposed housekeeping changes which I support. These correct some contradictions and clarify some language. None of them change restrictions or alter the intent of specific passages.


Neighbourhood Enhancement Grants

The Neighbourhood Enhancement Grant program exists to allow local groups to undertake projects that will make their community better. It is a matching grant, meaning that applicants need to provide at least 50% of the resources needed for a project. Eligible projects need to fit into the following categories: Neighbourhood Planning, Neighbourhood Improvements, School Partnership Projects, Program Development, Capital Equipment Acquisition

It has been recommended that Council approve the following grants:

  • $3300 to the Cobblestone and Riverstone Neighbourhood Associations for garbage cans alongside walking trails

  • $690 to Hillside Neighborhood Association to purchase stencils and paint for physical literacy games on the concrete outside of Hillside Elementary School

  • $5000 to the Country Club Neighbourhood Association for a picnic table, bench, basketball net, and landscaping at Aspen Grove Elementary School

  • $1575 to the Swanavon Neighbourhood Association to install additional community banners on light posts

  • $2400 to the Highland Park Neighbourhood Association to install six lending libraries

  • $5000 to the Westpointe Neighbourhood Association and South West 40 Playground Society to help with a playground at Isabel Campbell Park school

I support all of these grants.

However, one thing worth noting: many of these grants are supporting projects at schools. The City needs to be careful with this. Education is a provincial responsibility which should not be funded by our municipal government. We need to be careful not to overstep our role when improving school sites. We should not be making large investments on the behalf of schools.

That being said, modest investment by the City (such as in the examples above) is appropriate. Community members use school playgrounds outside of school hours, and this type of recreation is a municipal responsibility. Therefore I enthusiastically support all the grants as recommended.


Community Group Funding

In December, Council met as a Committee of the Whole to discuss direct funding given to community groups. For this funding to become official it needs to be approved at a regular City Council meeting.

Despite pursuing a tax decrease, Council had decided to hold the Community Group funding level at 2018 levels. However, it also received over $1,000,000 in additional requests. Most of these requested increases were based on rising demand for services.

To accommodate more of these requests, Council opted to increase the funding pool by $55,900. This will come out of the 2018 surplus so will not effect the proposed 2019 tax decrease.

I’ve listed the final allocations Committee settled on at the very bottom of this post.

There was great debate as we set funding levels, and overall I am very satisfied with what was decided. I will be supporting confirming the Community Group Funding decisions recommended by Committee of the Whole.

That being said, I do want to acknowledge the frustration with this year’s process expressed by some groups. This was the first year all this funding came out of a central pool supervised by Council rather than from various departmental budgets. Putting all of this funding into a single pool was a much needed change. However, it also required a dramatically different process which encountered some hiccups its first year.

There is a Council Committee of the Whole meeting scheduled for March 27. Its purpose is to discuss 2020 funding. This will allow us to give early and proactive direction to make things a lot smoother for next year.

Some potential changes I’d like to see Council consider:

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

  • More multi-year commitments from the City. This will decrease administrative time and give groups more long term stability.

  • 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 look forward to discussions about how we can fund our community partners better.


Aquatera Dividends

Aquatera is structured as a private company. However, it is completely owned by municipalities with the City being the majority shareholder.

The board needs Unanimous Consent from all shareholders before declaring dividends. It has been recommended that Council direct the Mayor to approve the 2018 dividends which have been recommended by the Aquatera Board.

Some of the dividends are mandatory: they are based on physical infrastructure the City invested in and are required Aquatera bylaws. There are additional Discretionary dividends: these are based on profit and are given at the discretion of the Aquatera Board (with the consent of the original shareholders: the City, County, and Town of Sexsmith).

I am supportive of directing the Mayor to accept the recommendations made by the Aquatera Board.


Community Living Committee: Storm Hockey

On Tuesday, there is a Community Living Committee meeting. There will be a discussion which you may hear about before anything hits a City Council meeting agenda. It has to do with the Grande Prairie Storm.

The Swan City Hockey Association is a non-profit organisation which owns the Storm. Over the last couple of years it has been working hard to become more financially secure.

In 2017, the City forgave rent which was due for the 2015-16 season. Then, in February of 2018, the City was asked for financial assistance. The amount requested would’ve allowed the organization to begin the 2018-19 season debt free.

Since this request was made, City Council and management have had a number of conversations with Swan City Hockey. The organisation has been working hard on making game day even better for fans, improving the team, and strengthening its business operations. It has done some really great work. With that in mind, management is making some recommendations for the City to help.

None of management’s recommendations involve a direct cash gift or loan. They are:

  • Zero dollar rent for 2018-19 season. All service fees remain with City

  • Storm Lounge to operate each home game, midway through 3rd period until one hour after game's conclusion. Crystal Catering to manage this service on behalf of the Storm and bill the team for inventory, a staff member ($15 per hour) and any food that they might request. Net revenue to be retained by the Storm. Revolution Place will supply and pay for one guest services staff member

  • Member of City Council to sit on Storm board as a voting member

  • Storm 2018-19 business plan to be reviewed by Revolution Place General Manager, discussed and any concerns addressed

  • Monthly financial statements, Statement of Financial Position (Balance Sheet) & Statement of Operations (Income Statement) to be filed with the City within 15 days of month-end, and annual Notice to Reader statements to be filed with City of Grande Prairie Finance within 60 days of fiscal year-end

  • Annual, end of season review of Storm's operations, with Council.

I do not have too much to say about these recommendations at this time. The intent of committee meetings is for Councillors to hear from management, ask questions, and refine recommendations before they go to Council. Until that process happens, I work hard to keep an open mind and not form strong opinions. However, in principal I will say:

I do want the Storm to be present and healthy in Grande Prairie. In Canada, having a local hockey team is a valuable cultural commodity. Storm games bring people into downtown and the rest of the community to spend money. The team undertakes important charitable work in our community. Additionally, losing the Storm as an anchor tenant would cost Revolution Place money in terms of service fees, advertising, and other business activities.

In my mind, it makes sense for the City to offer some support to helping the Storm thrive. I look forward to having a discussion at the Committee meeting about what type of support is appropriate.


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.

After Council meeting, you will be able to find highlights posted by the City here.

Thanks for reading!

-Dylan



Community Group Funding Recommendations

1. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Grande Prairie & Area - $15,000.00

2. Broadway Live Broadway Ltd. - $10,000.00

3. Centre for Creative Arts Society of Grande Prairie - $119,000.00

4. Centre for Creative Arts (Lease Agreement Insurance and Bonds) - $8,430.00

5. Community Futures Spark Incubator - $54,740.00

6. Disabled Transportation Society of Grande Prairie - $615,750.00

7. Elks Hall (Lease Agreement for Parking Lot) - $12,500.00

8. Grande Prairie Regional Innovation Network - $19,240.00

9. Grande Prairie Regional Tourism Association Membership - $95,000.00

10. Grade Three Reading Academy Society - $5,000.00

11. Grande Prairie and District Golden Age Centre (Lease Commitment) - $30,000.00

12. Grande Prairie and District Golden Age Centre - $9,620.00

13. Grande Prairie and District Victim Services Association - $55,000.00

14. Grande Prairie and Area Safe Communities Committee - $25,010.00

15. Grande Prairie and Area Safe Communities Committee (Kiosk Lease) - $2,500.00

16. Grande Prairie Boys Choir - $11,000.00

17. Grande Prairie Council for Lifelong Learning - $26,000.00

18. Grande Prairie Curling Club (Lease Agreement Electricity) - $54,300.00

19. Grande Prairie Curling Club (Lease Agreement Insurance and Bonds) - $42,180.00

20. Grande Prairie Live Theatre - $51,700.00

21. Grande Prairie Live Theatre (Lease Agreement Insurance and Bonds) - $9,750.00

22. Grande Prairie Marching Band - $10,590.00

23. Grande Prairie Public Library Board - $1,650,000.00

24. Grande Prairie Soccer Association (Lease Agreement Electricity) - $16,000.00

25. Grande Prairie Sport Council - $108,000.00

26. Grande Prairie Street Performers - $17,320.00

27. Grande Prairie Technical Search and Rescue - $21,650.00

28. Grande Prairie Youth Emergency Shelter Society - $110,000.00

29. Mighty Peace Watershed Alliance - $10,000.00

30. Nitehawk - $48,100.00

31. Peace Libraries (Agreement) - $440,095.00

32. Peace Regional Independent Media Arts Association - $6,740.00

33. Peace Wapiti Speed Skating Club - $12,510.00

34. Prairie Gallery Society - $303,000.00

35. Reel Shorts Film Society - $11,000.00

36. Rising Above Society (Lease Agreement) - $50,000.00

37.South Peace Regional Archives - $72,150.00

38. Spinal Cord Injury Association of Alberta - $19,240.00

39. St. Lawrence Community Support Association - $30,000.00

40. STARS - $35,000.00

41. Visitor Information Centre (Lease Agreement) - $106,570.00