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Coming Up: March 11

Council meets Monday night at 6:30. The most interesting agenda items:

  • Eastlink Centre Membership Fees: a proposal to lower them

  • Childcare Services: recommendations to expand services and increase fees

  • Arbour Hills: a request to change where Small Lot Residential properties are located

  • Downtown Association Budget Review

  • Resource Advocacy: A recommendation to support the Resource Communities of Canada Coalition

  • Arts Funding: Potential implementation of caps on individual project and scholarship funding

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.

While I express my current positions below, I always go into meetings ready to listen and with an open mind. I may change my mind on votes as I learn new information and participate in debate.

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.


Eastlink Centre Membership Fees

Council will be considering a reduction to membership fees at the Eastlink Centre.

City management has been tasked with delivering services more efficiently (click here for more information). To accomplish this, City programs are being subjected to in depth financial analysis. The recommendations for a reduction in Eastlink Centre membership fees came from this process.

Analysis found: the Eastlink Centre offers a 25% discount on memberships through an annual Anniversary Sale. Chamber of Commerce members are also able to receive a Corporate Discount of 20% off. Over 80% of memberships are bought through these discounts. At the same time, Eastlink Centre memberships cost 15-25% more than memberships at similar facilities in Alberta.

Looking at this data, management proposed that non-discounted memberships at the Eastlink Centre may be set at higher prices than the community is able or willing to pay. To address this, management recommends that we lower fees in order to increase membership sales. Having more members would mean more residents get to enjoy the Eastlink Centre. It could also generate more revenue, meaning that the facility’s subsidy from taxpayers could decrease.

Here are the new fees being proposed and how they compare to 2018 rates:

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This table reflects proposed full price fees. In addition, there would continue to be an Anniversary Sale of 10% and a Corporate Discount of 5% available.

If these fees are adopted and they lead to a 5% increase in membership sales, the Eastlink Centre will experience a net gain of ~$49,000. Of course, there is a risk that we could lower fees with no change to sales. If this happened, there would be a net loss of ~$23,000. To break even with this change, memberships sales would need to increase by 1.55%.

I intend to vote in favour of these fee decreases. I’m a big fan of making it easier for residents to use the Eastlink Centre. And the risk of losing money on this change is minimal. Making this facility more affordable while likely saving taxpayers money is a real win for the community.

I also want to address some common questions I’ve received as we discuss Eastlink Centre memberships:

  • Why aren’t you adjusting drop-in fees, too? We might adjust these, but are not quite ready yet. Management is currently undertaking a review of every fee and charge the City has, including drop-in fees at the Eastlink Centre. Recommendations will be coming to Council for debate in the next couple of months.

  • Why not make swim, gym, field house, or track only memberships available? This has been tried recently and did not have a large impact on membership sales. I think it would be worth experimenting with again in the future. However, we’re also in the midst of overhauling marketing and adopting new software to manage our recreation programs. Our staff are also getting ready to open the outdoor pool. I think these processes should be completed before any other major changes are undertaken.

  • Will outdoor pool access be included in Eastlink Centre membership? Not in 2019. The plan is to operate the pool this summer, determine usage and actual costs, then evaluate how to treat memberships going forward. I think it makes sense to offer bundled memberships in the future, but support waiting until 2020 to do so. While we are discussing the outdoor pool: construction is completed, and the pool has been tested (and I know from experience that the water slide is awesome!). Staff are being recruited and trained. It is just waiting for spring weather to open.


Child Care Fees

As part of the financial strategy described above, management has also examined City childcare programs. These consist of:

  • Daycare and a pre-kindergarten room at Dave Barr

  • After school care at Maude Clifford

  • Day homes throughout the community

There are currently 159 kids enrolled in these programs with 90 on wait lists. These programs are accredited, which means that they exceed minimum required standards. Families in these programs are eligible for grants from the provincial government to help cover costs.

The City is currently charging less for most of its programs than other organisations in the community are charging.

Analysis found that, when management and building overhead are accounted for, these programs are losing ~$73,000/year. That means that they are being subsidized by taxpayers. To end this subsidy, management has recommended that the City:

  • Open a toddler room to utilize unused space in Dave Barr arena

  • Raise childcare fees to match the highest prices of other organisations offering childcare in Grande Prairie

  • Decrease the payment made to day home providers to match what providers in other organisations are paid

Following are the proposed prices.

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Note: “Agency Fee Collected from Provider” refers to the amount the City retains for each day home spot to pay for the City’s management of this program. The remainder of each day home fee is given to the provider.

If these recommendations are fully implemented, child care programs will go from being subsidize to profiting ~$53,500. Any profit could be invested into other programs benefiting kids.

I do support changes, including fee increases, to these programs. I don’t think that municipal taxpayers should be subsidizing these programs for the following reasons:

  • They are already subsidizing these programs through the provincial grants given to parents

  • The current City subsidization is for all kids in these programs: it does not target working parents, families with low incomes, or any other priority groups

  • If the City continues to offer the lowest prices in town, it may prevent other providers from opening or expanding programs due to them being undercut by the City

  • With hundreds of kids on wait lists, daycare is a big need in our community. I would like the City to explore expanding its programs. But we can’t expand if we are spending hundreds of dollars per kid in our programs

At the same time, I think the proposed fees may be a little too aggressive. I have the following concerns:

  • These changes would see our programs become the most expensive in the City. The intent of this is to ensure that we aren’t out-competing other providers. That is an important consideration. But I think I’d rather see us strive to charge average prices rather than the highest prices.

  • Currently. City day home providers are paid better than providers in other organisations within our community. The recommendations would see them begin to get paid the average of other providers. This would cost the average City provider $500/year and would cost some $1200 or more. These are hardworking people doing important work, and they make less than most City employees. While in principal I support us paying industry average, I don’t know if I want us to reduce their income. I’d be more comfortable with us freezing it until inflation has brought up the industry average to match. To me, this seems like the most fair way to treat providers. I’m also concerned that if we cut wages, providers may choose to not work under the City umbrella. This would reduce the program’s potential to break even, and reduce the oversight given to people caring for children.

  • The changes would see after school care go up by 150% in September. I do think that the new fees are reasonable, but increasing them that much all at once may be unreasonable. I’d be more comfortable with us raising them over the course of two years.

I won’t know what proposals I’ll support until the Council debate- decisions made in one area will effect my votes in other areas. My goal will be to advocate for a total package which addresses the above concerns as best as possible while still having these programs break even.


Arbour Hills Re-zoning

Arbour Hills is a residential development just north of 132 Ave.

The southernmost phase of this development is currently zoned as General Residential (RG). This requires a minimum lot width of 12.2m. The developer has asked for it to be rezoned to Small Lot Residential (RS), which would allow the minimum lot size to decrease to 11m. This change will allow lots to be developed (and sold) for less money as they will require less roads and other infrastructure per lot. It will also allow for 11 more lots to be put into this phase of the development.

The Municipal Development Plan which governs development states that only 25% of the area within an Outline Plan can be zoned as Small Lot Residential. Rezoning these lots would cause that 25% to be exceeded. So the developer is also asking to rezone Small Lot Residential properties in later phases of the development to Residential General.

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These changes make sense to me. Despite a growing population and economy, house sales and builds are going very slowly. From talking to builders, realtors, and potential home purchasers, I think there is desire in our community for smaller lot products. This change will allow them to get built sooner.

I do want to acknowledge that some are worried about small lots due to problems in past developments. While I see the challenges in some Grande Prairie neighbourhoods, smaller lot developments do work in other municipalities. Some changes that Grande Prairie has made in recent years to help them work better here

  • Increasing minimum lot widths

  • Limiting driveway widths

  • Introducing secondary suite regulations

I’m confident that, if this re-zoning goes through, the streets will be usable by residents and serviceable by the City.


Downtown Association Budget

The Downtown Associations is funded through a tax collected from its members. Since Council authorizes this tax, it also needs to approve the association’s budget. A budget of $360,263 has been proposed. It can be seen here.

This budget was approved by the association’s Board of Directors. I also attended its Annual General Meeting where this was presented to members without any objection. For those reasons, I intend to vote in favour of approving this budget.


Resource Communities of Canada Coalition

The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) and other municipal associations from across Canada are forming the Resource Communities of Canada Coalition. Its intent is to allow these municipalities to coordinate with one another as they:

  • Advocate for a responsible resource industry

  • Ensure municipal perspectives are being heard on issues impacting resource development

  • Share factual information regarding resource development

One of Council’s primary jobs is to advocate for our community, citizens, and regions. And having a well supported and healthy resource industry is essential to their well being. Our voice is also stronger if it is connected to others. I intend to vote in favour of supporting this initiative.


Arts Development Funding

The City has grants available for individual art projects and for arts development scholarships. These are both administered by the Arts Development Committee which is made up of three Councillors and four Public Members.

This committee has recommended that we update grant criteria. They would like to see grant funding given to any individual project capped at 20% of the project’s total budget. The committee would also like to see grant funding for any one scholarship be capped at $1,400.

These changes make sense to me, but I also have not heard any background information about them yet. I look forward to hearing it at Council. While I’m inclined to support these recommendations, I’ll have a very open mind until I learn more.


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.

We also always have great conversation in the GP Round Table group Facebook.

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

Thanks for reading!

-Dylan