page contents

Coming Up: Jan 28

Council meets Monday night at 6:30. On the agenda:

  • Bear Creek North: a proposed high level plan for development on the north side of the City

  • Grande Prairie Storm: requests for City assistance including a temporary reduction in rent and an interest bearing loan

  • Aquatera Rates: a proposed reduction in solid waste rates and increase to water and waste water rates

  • Extended Producer Responsibility: an advocacy initiative to transfer the cost of consumer waste from municipal tax payers to producers

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.

I also want to let you know about my next COFFEE WITH DYLAN event. It will be on Tuesday, February 12th at 7:00pm in the Ernie Radbourne Pavilion. This is an informal time open to anyone to ask questions and share thoughts they have about our community. We’ll spend about 45 minutes talking about affordable, social, and supportive housing. After that I’ll stick around to talk about anything the group wants to discuss. I hope you can come.


Bear Creek North- 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.

On Monday staff will be presenting plans for Bear Creek North. This includes ~30 quarter sections on the north end of the City on either side of the new bypass. It is currently being used for agricultural, county residential, and recreational uses.

Untitled.png

The ASP calls for Bear Creek North to be broken up into two areas. Area 1 north of the bypass focuses on residential and light industrial uses. Area 2 south of the bypass focuses on residential and commercial institutional uses.

Untitled.png

Each area envisions a neighbourhood centre meant to create local jobs and foster walkable communities. These neighbourhood centres will have both commercial and multi-family development and will be built to encourage pedestrians and other forms of active transportation. The ASP also calls for walking trails, school sites, and Environmental Reserve areas.

Untitled.png

A unique aspect of this plan: it has aspects that encourage very environmentally sustainable development. This includes encouragement of net zero buildings and the exploration of alternative energy generation tied to a district energy system.

I was excited to see this plan. This is an area of likely growth in our community. I’m glad to see a high level plan for development that encourages neighbourhoods that will be great to work, live, and play in. I also like seeing thought put into energy initiatives that are both good for our environment and which could save property owners money in the long run.

At the same time, at the meeting I’ll be asking more to learn about how prescriptive the aspects of this plan relating to sustainable energy strategies would be. I’d love to see us encourage these strategies, but not if they make development prohibitively expensive or cumbersome.

I have questions to ask and will be going into the meeting with an open mind. But right now I anticipate being in support of this plan.


Storm Hockey

In 2017, the Storm were struggling after seeing financial loses. They approached the City for help and were forgiven the rent they owed the City for the 2015/16 season.

Since then they have recruited new board members and a new business manager. With these new people the team has worked hard at strengthening business operations, improving their team, raising sponsorship, and giving fans a better game day experience. This has let them make big strides towards long-term viability. For example, this season they've reported a 63% increase in ticket sales, a 28% increase in corporate sponsorship, and an increase in fundraising.

The Storm are projecting a profit this season of approximately $88,000 without any City assistance. They expect to continue operating in the black going forward. However, due to past difficulties they finished last season with accounts payable and debt equaling $237,402. This is creating cash flow challenges that threaten the team’s sustainability. This has led the team to approach the City for assistance. They are confident that they can remain viable and pay full rent at Revolution Place in the long-term if they get the help requested. Without help their future becomes significantly more challenging.

Some information that is important as we consider these requests:

  • The Storm is owned by a non-profit society. It's founders, board members, and patrons are prevented by Canadian law from taking profit out of it.

  • The Storm have historically paid more rent to the City than other teams in the league have paid for their facilities. This has contributed to past financial challenges.

  • The Storm used to have to pay for other teams to travel to Grande Prairie. They no longer have to do this, which makes their operations a lot more efficient now than in the past.

  • The team has been very transparent and honest to Council and management. They’ve answered all questions fully and have been very open about their shortfalls and risks. I have every reason to trust the board and staff’s information, integrity, and intention to run a non-profit hockey team for the benefit of our community

  • Demand for ice time in the community seems to be met currently. It is unlikely that other groups (including kids groups) will see significant benefit if the Storm no longer use Revolution Place

Considering the Storm’s requests has been a challenge for me. I want to see the team be successful for the following reasons:

  • 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. A STEAM model of the 2017/18 season estimated it had an economic impact of $1,567,011.

  • The team undertakes important charitable work in our community

  • Losing the Storm as an anchor tenant would cost Revolution Place an estimated $45,000 in terms of service fees, advertising, and other business activities.

At the same time, I’ve been a strong advocate of Council and management’s work to lower taxes without compromising City services. I’m very conscious that our resources are limited and need to be targeted with discipline. With this in mind, I want us to be very cautious with any assistance we give to the Storm.

Following are specific recommendations made to Council and my take on them.

Storm Lounge

The team has asked to operate a lounge during each game day. It would open midway through the 3rd period and go until an hour after the game.

Crystal Catering would manage this service and bill the team for inventory, staff, and food. Revolution Place would supply one guest services staff member.

The City fielded a request of $50,000 in matching funds to renovate the Rock-97 Room to host this lounge. Providing that capital has NOT been recommended to Council and is not being considered at this time.

I support this recommendation. It requires very few resources from the City but could help the Storm build revenue and significantly improve the experience of fans. Additionally, if the Storm decide to improve the lounge, the City could see potential revenue by renting it out during non-Storm events.

Increased City Involvement and Oversight

Mechanisms have been suggested to give the City more oversight to the Storm. These include:

  • The 2018/18 business plan to be reviewed by the Revolution Place General Manager. Any of his concerns to be discusses and addressed by the team.

  • Monthly financial statements to be filed with the City

  • A member of City Council appointed the to Storm board as a voting member

  • An annual end of season review of Storm operations by City Council

I fully support these recommendations. They will help us make more informed decisions concerning the Storm in the future. I also hope that the expertise of City Councillors and staff can assist the Storm in its road to long term sustainability.

Decreased Rent

It is recommended that Council approve no rent for the 2018/19 season and $20,000 of rent for the 2019/20 season. The lease is currently set at $43,800 per year. In their presentation to the Community Living committee the Storm expressed an expectation that they would pay full rent in the future even if relief is given now.

I’ve asked for more information about Revolution Place expenses and revenues. I won’t have a firm position on this until I receive it at Council meeting on Monday night.

I’ll need some convincing to support free rent for the year. However, I can see myself coming to support a reduced rent. I want the Storm to succeed, both for the benefit they bring to our community and for the revenue they generate for Revolution Place. If City support is given to help them become sustainable, I’m more comfortable with giving a gift-in-kind of reduced fees than with giving direct cash.

I’m going into our meeting with an open mind. But right now I am considering making or supporting a motion to amend the recommendation to $10,000 for the 2018/19 season and $20,000 for the 2019/2020 season. If a motion like this passed, I’d be likely to support the reduced rent. However, if the only option Council is considering is $0 rent for the 2018/19 season, I am leaning towards voting “no.”

Loan

The final request before Council is to extend a loan. The team requested $200,000 payable over 5 years with a 4.25% interest rate.

City management was tasked with coming to Council with potential funding sources for this loan. I suspect that Council will consider a source that has no impact on tax rates or currently budgeted services. Sources like this could include the Financial Stabilization Reserve (currently at ~$4,000,000) or the projected 2018 operating surplus (~$1,200,000).

For me this loan comes down to measuring risk. I can’t support putting $200,000 at substantial risk for the Storm. However, if I have great confidence it will be paid back in full and on time I anticipate supporting this loan. If paid back, this loan will not only have helped the Storm become much more stable but it will also have generated ~$25,000 in interest revenue for the City.

City management have spent a lot of time working with the Storm and assessing their current operations. However, this loan recommendation did not come from them. It was a direct request to the Community Living Committee made by Storm representatives. Given that management has not recommending this loan, I do not support Council granting this loan until it has had more direct involvement.

I anticipate the recommendations of appointing a Councillor to the board, receiving financial statements, and conducting an end-of-season review to pass. If they do, I intend to make a motion to postpone voting on the loan until our April 8 City Council meeting. This will allow time for our board appointee to get up to speed and for Council to do a review of the organisation at the end of its regular season. At that time I’ll feel much more capable of assessing the risk attached to granting this loan.

If this vote is postponed, I’m likely to vote “yes” to a loan if I have confidence in its security. However, I do not have enough information to have that confidence at this time. If Council goes ahead with this vote on Monday night I am likely to vote “no.”


Aquatera Rates

Every two years, Council reviews Aquatera rates. It does this based on recommendations from Aquatera that take into account operational costs, needed capital improvements, and shareholder dividends. These recommended rates are presented to Council. Council can approve, modify, or reject the recommended rate changes. However, if Council sets rates below the Aquatera recommendations then the City has to make up for the shortfall. This means it needs to reduce services, cut taxes, or increase other user fees.

This year Aquatera is recommending a 6.5% reduction to garbage collection rates. This reduction is possible due to increased commercial and industrial dumping at the landfill creating more revenue. It will save a typical property $1.25 per month.

Aquatera is also recommending a 2.5% increase to water rates. This increase is needed to fund capital projects including planning for the Hughes Lake Area and shoring up the riverbank at Aquatera’s water intake. This will cost a typical property $1.97/month.

The net impact of these rate changes will be $0.72/month or $8.64/year for a typical property.

I support these rate adjustments. The cost increase is well below inflation. Additionally the best indicator I can think of to determine if rates are fair is comparing them to other municipalities. With these changes Aquatera rates will still be below the median water, wastewater, and solid waste costs in Alberta.

Untitled.png


A Note About Struggling Families


Something I want to address: some have suggested to me that Aquatera dividends should be used to lower rates in order to help struggling families out. I wholeheartedly share the intention of this suggestion. I really feel for people that are having troubles getting by month-to-month. A big reason I ran for Council is I want to make their lives more sustainable and livable.

However, I don’t believe that changing Aquatera rates would have the intended effect. In fact, lowering rates would generate a net cost for families.

There are many buildings in our town that do not pay property taxes. These are our government and non-profit buildings, some of which are among the biggest ones in town (hospitals, schools, the provincial building, and GPRC). Because they use City services without paying City taxes, they are subsidized by properties that do pay taxes. And if our water rates are less than rates elsewhere, City taxpayers are subsidizing provincial operations more than the rest of the province is.

If we decrease Aquatera rates by decreasing dividends, we need to make up for that money through property taxes. By saving these non-tax paying facilities utility costs, we increase the subsidy they receive from tax payers. Decreasing utility rates would actually have a net increase on costs for families.


EXTENDED PRODUCER RESPONSIBILITY (EPR)

Speaking of solid waste costs…

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a legislative framework which makes the producers of consumer products financially responsible for the waste they generate. In simplified terms: instead of municipal taxpayers paying for waste services, waste producers and their customers pay for the cost of waste. An example of this: in BC producers of paper products assume the full costs and managerial responsibilities of recycling packaging and paper products (click here to read about other EPR programs in Canada).

Alberta is one of the few provinces that doesn’t have EPR legislation. However, since most provinces do have EPR programs, many producers build compliance costs into their national prices. So when Alberta consumers buy these products, they are paying the producers extra to fund recycling programs in other provinces. At the same time, Albertans are paying for their own recycling programs through their municipal taxes.

Calgary has been working with other municipalities to attempt to change this by advocating for change. It has been recommended that Grande Prairie Council direct City management to cooperate with Calgary and other municipalities to gather baseline data that could inform the creation of a provincial EPR program.

I intend to support this recommendation. It makes sense to me that the consumers of waste products should pay for disposal rather than municipal tax payers. This is a more equitable distribution of costs and is likely to create environmental benefit through waste reduction. I also hate to see Albertans paying extra for something that only benefits other provinces. EPR legislation is needed in this province and the City should support its formation.


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.

I also hope to see you at the coffee gathering on February 12th.

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

Thanks for reading!

-Dylan