2006 in review the state of the city address, january 2007 members

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2006 in Review The State of the City Address, January 2007

Members of Alberta’s third largest Chamber of Commerce, thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. With more than 1,000 members, your Chamber has valuable connections across this region and around Alberta. You are committed to excellence in your businesses and personal lives. You believe in this community and region. You deserve to know the plans and philosophies of your local elected representatives. I am proud to stand before you today with details of your City’s successes in 2006. I am humbled with the anticipation of the challenges ahead. I am eager to let you know where we might be going in 2007 and beyond. A great organization like your City government cannot move forward unless there is a clear vision of where we want to go. Your City has a full strategic plan. Go to your City website at to read all the details. Here is your City’s vision, our guiding light in these challenging times. All members of our community enjoy a quality of life that is envied throughout Canada - a magnet to continued growth and prosperity. Grande Prairie is the regional service centre and hub for North-western Alberta and the North - for trade, transportation, health, emergency services, education, recreation, entertainment, culture, social services, and government services. We are a model City - colourful, clean, and beautiful in all seasons, and competitive within our Region, Province, and Nation. Community initiatives and mature partnerships with preventive and emergency services earn our reputation as a safe-city. Building on our past successes, we lead the Region in e-government and information technology. 2006 was a great year! A year of top two, top four, and top snow. The Real Estate Investment Network declared your City as one of the top two places in Alberta for real estate investment. Moneysense Magazine analysed Canada’s one hundred and eight cities and announced that Grande Prairie is in the top four cities in Canada to live and raise a family. And October 27 brought an unexpected near record snowfall leading to tremendous inconvenience, a huge hit to our snow removal budget, and a real time reminder that we cannot control nor predict what Mother Nature will throw at us next. After years of concentrated efforts by volunteers, businesses, and City staff to raise the bars of city-wide cleanliness and beauty, your City achieved its first ever top award of Five Blooms in the nationwide Communities in Bloom program. We were one of only ten communities to be awarded the “High Achiever” status in the 2006 Alberta Choosewell Challenge for healthy living. For their continued dedication to innovation and excellence, your City staff led by City Manager Dave Gourlay received two important honours. The entire corporate leadership team shared in the Senior Municipal Team Award, jointly presented by the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association and the Society of Local Government Managers. Our multi departmental Egovernment project members were presented with the national Gold Medal of Distinction for their user friendly e-government services website at the Government Technology


Exhibition Conference in Ottawa. The City and County co-hosted the Government Finance Officers Association - ALBERTA Chapter Conference. The credit for these national and provincial awards and conferences must be shared with all City staff. Together your City staff has created a dynamic friendly environment of caring for what goes on in your City and across our entire region. These dedicated people face the challenges of our growing region every day. They do a great job under sometimes trying circumstances. On behalf of all members of Council, thank you one and all. Please go to the City’s 2006 Annual Report posted on the website to get the full details of many more City successes! Your community was just as involved in drawing international and national attention to our region. The 2006 Ford World Women’s Curling Championship was a tremendous success. Two World Cup of Natural Luge events were the international tune-up for North America’s first world championship of natural luge which will be held at Nitehawk’s Canadian Tire Natural Luge track next month. For four days last September, we became “Oilersville” and hosted the first ever national hockey league complete training camp outside of Edmonton. Guided by our Strategic Plan, your Council reached for success on many fronts. We need to stay ahead of the pack to retain our top two and top four best community statuses. In 2006, we opened the environmentally friendly Leeds silver standard RCMP and Bylaw Enforcement Building. More RCMP officers moved into this state of the art facility during this second year of our three year plan to increase funding for crime enforcement to ten million dollars annually. We believe that this 57% increase is the highest three-year increase in the crime fighting budget of any community in Alberta. Grande Prairie became the first community west of Ontario and the fourth in Canada to ban the wearing of illegal gang clothing or logos on city property. We declared our intention to support the Community Action Committee on Crime Prevention’s goal to make Grande Prairie bully and harassment free. Crime is not welcome in our community. We continued with our international award-winning plan to improve our road network. 2006 saw the next instalment of the six-year $73 Million road investment strategy go out to tender. Millions of dollars worth of road work was completed but the hot economy with its demands for infrastructure renewal and expansion and the well-documented worker shortage meant that millions of dollars of needed roadwork was postponed until 2007. Helped in part by a donation of City land and services, the new larger Odyssey House for women and children in crisis opened. Sadly, the new beds were filled immediately. Congratulations to the staff, volunteers, and funders who are dedicated to stopping the cycle of violence towards women and children. We created the position of City Affordable Housing Coordinator. We need to join others in our community to tackle negative side effects of our hot economy, rapidly rising rents, and lack of


new affordable housing. Planning for your City’s Hearthstone Manor 40 unit affordable housing project continued with construction scheduled to start in 2007. The renewable wood powered Canadian Gas and Electric Ecopower Centre officially opened. Your City’s purchase of electricity from this source of green energy was instrumental in the project going ahead. To effectively foster beneficial change, your Council believes Grande Prairie needs to be a player at the regional, provincial, and national scenes. We cannot move our local agenda forward by staying quietly at home. In this regard, we met with seven candidates seeking the position of Premier of Alberta. They needed to hear our research and analysis on provincial-wide regional issues and how we are prepared to work with the new Premier to solve Alberta’s challenges. Following the practice started several years ago, we visited Edmonton to meet with Cabinet Ministers who can help us achieve positive change for your City. During this visit, we were hosted by the County of Strathcona Council. These eight full time councillors govern a region similar in structure to our region and have the added complexity of meeting the needs of about 110,000 people. Our region has more than 40 local politicians governing over 70,000 people. The efficiencies of a regional government for the County of Strathcona are very apparent. Hosted by facilitators supplied by the Minister of Municipal Affairs, your council participated in a series of meetings with the County of Grande Prairie No. 1 Council. While the experience had value, no issues were resolved. We met with the Board of Peace Country Health. We had helpful discussions with Sexsmith and Wembley Town Councils on the issues of regional integration. We organized the fourth annual Peace Country Village group of booths at the Meet the North Conference held in Edmonton. Eighteen municipalities and organizations from across the Alberta and British Columbia Peace were showcased at this event. Members of Council joined me in representing your City at the Northern Alberta Development Council’s Challenge North Conference in High Level, Northern Alberta Mayors and Reeves Caucus, the Alberta Urban Municipalities Conference, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Conference. Another successful Municipal Government Day saw thousands tour City hall, view City equipment, be entertained by multicultural groups, attend an event at Centre 2000, and enjoy a barbeque. As part of a seven city social housing lobby group, I helped make a presentation to the Provincial Standing Policy Committee on Health and Community Living. Shortly after this widely publicized meeting, the Alberta Government announced new funding for social housing initiatives across Alberta.


I was honoured to speak to the annual convention of the AUMA on growth issues. I represented Grande Prairie on the Boards of the national not for profit transportation lobby group; the North West Corridor Development Corporation; and CAANA, the Commuter Air Access Network of Alberta. The continuing work of CAANA on behalf of the small airports of Alberta, including the City Centre Airport, has had a major role in persuading Premier Ed Stelmach to instruct the Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation, the Honourable Luke Ouellette, in his December 15, 2006 mandate letter to, and I quote from the letter, “Develop a new provincial aviation strategy to explore options to ensure the viability of small airports in Alberta.” I participated in a special session on Urban/Rural Conflicts hosted by the City of Red Deer, the first ever Provincial Roundtable On Violence In And Around Licensed Premises, the AUMA President's Summit On Municipal Sustainability, and meetings of the Northwest Alberta Mayors, Reeves, CAO's, Chiefs And Chairpersons Group. In 2006, I travelled outside your City on 40 nights for City business. This increased travel reduced the number of community events I was able to attend this year to just under 300. Thank you to the rest of Council who stepped up to ensure council representation at all events. Growth and its challenges have increased the time needed to effectively govern your City. Thank you Alderman Rice, Heath, Eckhardt, Logan, Mazer, Blackmore, Croken, and Given for your dedication to City matters throughout 2006. You have all shouldered an ever changing workload with professionalism and unassailable commitment to tackling this City’s issues. Last year you heard how our record growth of 2004 had risen to evermore dizzying heights in 2005. Where are we now? Surfing an amazing tide of development only dreamed of in the past! 2005’s five growth records have morphed upward into seven jewels of growth activity. • Building construction values are up 10% to $231,113,694, a 50% increase over 2004 and 2.5 times the 10 year average. • The total number of permits increased to 13,517, a 15% increase. • Registered residential lots rose by 52% from 1,424 to 2,159. • Approved residential dwelling units increased by 21% to 1,726 • 19% more single family home permits were issued for a total of 1,224. In the last seven years 5,046 single family homes have been built in your city. • 56 new subdivisions were approved. • A record 30 service agreements valued at a record $34 Million, an increase of 36%, were finalized. In the last seven years, more than 19 quarters of land have been developed in your City. Have we topped 50,000 in population? Can we predict an annual growth rate that tops last years’ 5.47%? I think so – on both counts. A spring census will verify our population count. Adding further emphasis to our growth challenges, the 2006 Northern Alberta Development


Council Shadow Population Report concluded that Grande Prairie’s shadow population living in our hotels and motels moves between 5,600 and 8,000 people nightly depending on the season. Can we convince the other orders of government that we need funding to pay for the services used by these hard working people? I hope so. How has our success on the growth front impacted property taxes and our budget? Details of the enhancements to service delivery and needed capital investments can be found by going to our website - Expenses are being kept in line despite pressures from record growth and ageing infrastructure. We have managed to keep this year’s property tax increase to 6.5%, an increase we predicted last year. How does Grande Prairie fit into the provincial perspective? Property taxes in Alberta’s cities are rising at double the rate of the rest of Alberta. Clearly Alberta’s City residents are paying for the community capacity improvements demanded by all Albertans regardless of where they live. Given the huge growth in what used to be called “rural Alberta”, is this fair? Let us discuss some of the increases and inequities faced by your City. The one year operating budget increase is $1.8 Million going from $59.1 Million in 2006 to $60.9 Million this year. Four departments, Protective Services, Community Services, Transportation, and Facilities, consume 76% of our operating budget - up from 70% last year. We will invest $18 Million or 29.5% of our operating funding in protective services including police, fire disaster, and enforcement. Compare this to our regional neighbours who pay nothing for basic policing – resulting in a huge rural tax advantage. Is this fair? Community Services including recreation, culture, and parks, needs $16.2 Million or 26.6% of the operating budget. In comparison our regional rural neighbours invest a very low percentage of their budgets on community services provided within their borders and very little or nothing for community services provided by us to their residents. Again, a huge rural tax advantage results. Is this fair? Transportation gets $9.9 Million in funding. Our facilities operating budget is $2.1 Million. The 2006 tax funded capital investment was $14.2 Million. In 2007, the tax funded capital investment increases by 110% to $29.9 Million.


The tax supported debt resulting from this capital investment budget was $39.6 Million at the end of 2006. Tax supported debt will rise to $59.5 Million in 2007 which will be 45.7 % of the Provincial Government mandated debt limit of $130 Million. Do not be lulled into thinking we have conquered our infrastructure challenge. In spite of this level of capital investment, your City’s infrastructure deficit remains at nearly $500 Million. This figure reflects the harsh reality of living in a hot growth city. Alberta’s regional growth is centred on our cities and towns. Yet there is no formula in Alberta to require that the revenues from this new growth be invested in city based community services provided to all people across outdated traditional municipal boundaries. Is this fair? Without significant new revenue and funding changes at the regional, provincial, and federal levels, we have to expect massive local tax supported debt increases here and in all cities across this province. The City of Red Deer has announced they will reach their debt limit of $250 Million in just 4 years. Just four years ago Red Deer was almost debt free. The City of Cold Lake has been forced to raise residential property taxes 35% in just one year and stop all development until they can negotiate full infrastructure cost recovery from development levies. Cold Lake and Red Deer suffer from the same multi-jurisdictional growth issues as the rest of Alberta. In Grande Prairie, we expect our tax supported debt to rise to $87 Million at the end of 2008 – a 120% increase in just two years. Demands for services by regional neighbours, provincially mandated standards, escalating costs to replace old infrastructure and new growth needs will continue to drive our debt upwards. Change can happen. It has to happen. But will it come in time to preserve the rapidly eroding Alberta Advantage? Last year I spoke of the need for regional change and of practical, proven tools that could effect positive change. After twelve months of listening to Albertans, of learning that regional issues are spreading like wild fire across our province and of educating people on our Grande Prairie regional situation, have we made any progress? Sadly, not much. The disconnect between the growing new industrial rural tax base and the community capacity shortfalls in urban Alberta has been widely debated. The disconnect between the huge federal and provincial budget surpluses and the equally huge local government infrastructure deficit has been widely analysed. The Province has not stepped in to help with any new directives or formulas for change. The regions in conflict have not been quieted and cannot show any positive results.


The low point of my political career came in Girouxville on June 9 at the regular semi-annual meeting of the North West Alberta Reeves, Mayors, Band Chiefs, Chairpersons and CAO’s. As a result of a request made at the previous meeting, a committee was asked to prepare draft terms of reference for this group, which included how we might join together all local governments in northwest Alberta to lobby the other orders of government on issues that impacted lives of all of us in the north. All of us in the North work to create much of Alberta’s wealth. Many local leaders felt we need a way to get more of that wealth invested back into our part of the province. There are other issues of regional health care and education that need us to speak with one voice at the provincial table. Much to the surprise of myself and many others at that meeting, a representative of the northern zone of the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties told the group that six rural reeves were boycotting this meeting and that many rural municipal councils were opposed to any northwest Alberta municipal lobby group. Representatives of the MD of Greenview, the County of Grande Prairie No.1, and Northern Sunrise County all spoke against a lobby group that would try to improve all communities, both traditional rural and urban in northwest Alberta. How can we ever get the ear of our provincial government on issues unique to our northwest Alberta region if the rural councils refuse to participate with their urban neighbours in suggesting solutions to our special issues? How will we ever successfully resolve our region’s healthcare and education deficits without a strong common regional voice? How will we ever become competitive again with northern BC and their $694 Million Fair Share oil and gas provincial revenue sharing agreement if all municipalities in our great region will not come together to lobby for what is best for all our people? This strange boycott behaviour was repeated in Slave Lake on November 3, 2006 at the next meeting of this same group. This time the AAMD&C and MD of Greenview representatives walked out as the discussion of forming a north-western lobby group began. But another chapter in my continual education in how far some elected officials would go to intensify the unfortunate urban/rural divide occurred on January 25, 2007. The elected representatives of the Counties of Strathcona, Sturgeon, Leduc, and Parkland walked out of a meeting of 23 Edmonton region municipalities that was to discuss new ways of managing that region’s rapid multi-jurisdictional growth. Another boycott by a cadre of rural politicians. Why are they doing this? Do they not realize that conflict and controversy are sure-fire ways to drive development elsewhere? But the people we represent are smart. They know the real reason behind all this negative, growth destroying political posturing. On January 23, 2007, the Longwoods International Group released an opinion poll of residents from across the 23 municipalities of the Edmonton region. They were asked to give their


understanding of the rural/urban challenges of their region. 75% of those polled and living outside of the City of Edmonton confirmed their belief that protecting turf and politicians looking out for themselves would lead to the province stepping in to ensure that costs and benefits of growth are shared fairly across their region. Can it be that turf protection and looking out for number one are also preventing this region from coming together to get what our people need and have earned? Everyone listening to this speech knows the answer. So how can we get beyond this impasse and move our region forward? The people of the Longwoods survey were very clear. 89% of them said that their region needed multi-jurisdictional cooperation and decision making over the next ten years. 70% said the existing system for managing the Edmonton region’s growth was not working. A new style regional council was selected as the most preferred option for change. How can we manage our multi-jurisdictional growth? business share in our regional success? How will every person, family, and

Everyone here today and your neighbours know that a bad situation exists. Our continued record multi-jurisdictional growth rate is being threatened. Everyone living in this region must get involved in creating positive regional change. To effect change, people need information. They need opportunities to reflect and to listen to all sides. They need to have their voices and opinions heard. To help the people of this region make up their own minds and become effective advocates for changes you believe are needed, the City of Grande Prairie will be sharing information with all households in this region over the next several months. We will be providing the facts as we know them and asking for your input. There will be an opportunity for everyone living in the City, the County, Wembley, Hythe, Beaverlodge, and Sexsmith to have a say in the future of our region. Your City Council believes that this region is fully integrated; that people live, work, and play without caring about outdated local municipal boundaries. They love this region for its diversity, its opportunities, and its lifestyle. People cannot live in just one municipality. Now is the time for the local governments of this region to acknowledge and enhance the reality of multijurisdictional living. Is this true for you? How should this region share the revenues from and costs caused by multi-jurisdictional growth? Is sharing even an option?


If sharing is not an option, then, how can we build stand-alone neighbourhoods when the costs of building a community including infrastructure, social services, recreational services, and necessary facilities are rising all the time? If sharing is not an option, then is the creation of independent non-sharing silo communities the only result? Should we create a new way of building regional community capacity to benefit all our residents regardless of where they choose to live? Should the City of Grande Prairie continue the current level of subsidization of regional use of city-based community services and facilities? Is the current annual payment of less than $1 Million by the County of Grande Prairie No. 1 for specified community services acceptable given that the actual costs of these services are four or five times higher? Given the overcrowding of city-based facilities and programs, should usage by non-city residents be restricted or cancelled in favour of a city first usage policy? What is the value to the people of Wedgewood, Eagle Estates, Clairmont, and the Weyerhaeuser industrial complex to have access to a modern professional city-based fire fighting service after the current contract expires on December 31, 2008? We have invested $14 Million in fire fighting capacity and contribute another $8 Million annually to ensure we have the forty four best professional fire-fighters in Alberta. Is it time for the County to have its own fire service? At the Balisky Hodges Hearing, the County Representative gave sworn testimony that Clairmont did not need City fire protection as the County could use the volunteer fire fighters from La Glace and Bezanson. Would Wedgewood and Weyerhaeuser accept this volunteer fire service as well? Who should pay for the needed water and sewer upgrades in both Clairmont and the City? Should approving growth create the responsibility to pay for the costs of growth like water and sewer systems? Should all Alberta Peace Country municipalities work together for a made in Alberta Fair Share oil and gas revenues sharing program? In the 13 years that Dawson Creek has received BC Fair Share dollars, they have reduced property taxes in 12 of those years. This BC City of nearly 12, 000 people will receive at least $155 Million over the next 15 years.


Should City Council stop caring about regional change and focus inward without consideration of our regional neighbours? After all, the citizens of this City elect the council to work for them, not the region. Should we let the province decide what is best for our region? These are only some of the questions we will be asking people of the Grande Prairie region. I hope you will all participate and make the time to get involved. The advice and opinions of the people of the Grande Prairie region will shape our future. To enable everyone in the region to provide input on these issues a new website is being launched. Please log on to and share your thoughts on the future of our great region. As an elected official charged with doing what is best for your City, I cannot act alone or in isolation. All members of Council need your help and guidance on these issues. If the people tell us to turn this City into a silo, it will happen. If you tell us to work harder on solving regional revenue and capacity building issues, we have the drive and energy for this task. The next few months are critical for this region. I hope you are up to the challenge. I know you all care for this City and region as much as City Council does. Members of the Grande Prairie and District Chamber of Commerce, you have the opportunity to change the face of this region. I look forward to hearing your members’ thoughts on the challenges facing our region and this City. Thank you for listening to me today.

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