Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Need work "we" are hiring

By "we" I mean the good taxpayers of the Crowsnest Pass.

Just a matter of a few months ago our leaders hired a "New" Public Works Manager, I entered the G+P meeting last night just as the Mayor was introducing the "New" Fire Chief.

If you take a moment to click over to the Municipality site @  you will see "we" are also in the process of hiring a Building Inspector/Safety codes officer, Development Officer, Director of Planning, Engineering and Operations, and a Manager of Corporate Services.

Wow if I was on the negotiating committee for CUPE I would be rubbing my hands and thinking what a wonderful year 2012 is going to be, nothing better for bargaining than an employer that's flush with cash and willing to spend it.

Least we forget "we" still have the Director of Community Services to come. Does anybody believe that it will end there?

Interesting video from You tube  this story was pointed out to me by one of my reqular readers. Its from the USA but pretty much in line with what's going on in the Pass of course on a much smaller scale. Please take a couple of minutes and check it out.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Property Tax Penalties, Numbers separating the facts from the BS.

The bs on this property tax penalty issue gets deeper and deeper.

First of all I will start out by saying yes everybody should pay their taxes on time, their bank payments, credit card bills, utilities etc, in a perfect world they would. This world is far from perfect and that’s why all of the above get to charge you interest on the outstanding balance on your account.

I quote from Councilor Gallants blog. “Our Director of Finance and Systems confirmed that over half of the total is residential homes and businesses, while the remaining 46% or so is attributable to land developments and other parties.”

So I said 50% they say 46% not much of a difference. I do not know of anybody that’s saying almost all these back taxes are tied to one developer.

So do you think this penalty will have an impact on the 46%? No, they will just owe more. Out of the other 54% I expect most of the businesses will clean up their accounts so who will the 50% penalty impact? Residents who find themselves in the unfortunate position of not being able to pay their taxes.

Some people are still talking about the previous penalty being one of the lowest in the province at 10%. It was not 10%, it was 10% on June 30th and another 10% on January 1st which compounds to 21% annually.

Now we can be proud we will have one of the highest rates in the province.

So let’s talk about numbers under the old tax penalty a home owner that did not pay their taxes for three years on a home with a annual tax bill of $1800 would by the time their home went to a tax sale owe $8002 of which $5400 would be back taxes and $2602 in penalties

Now that same home owner will owe $13253 of which $5400 would be back taxes and $7853 would be penalties.

That’s a whopping $5251 difference in penalties!

I hear the line that people not paying their back taxes is putting pressure on the municipality to cut services due to shortfalls in revenue, what a crock. Last year the budget for taxes was $6,439,407 how short was the municipality on its tax revenue? Not one penny $6,765,427 came in $326,020 more than anticipated.

Fact over the last six years $34,407,633 in tax dollars was budgeted to come in, the actual dollars that were collected $34,806,978.

Then I hear the line people are investing their money elsewhere instead of paying their taxes (its getting deep now) according to the Globe and Mail today the top paying mutual fund in Canada over the last 12 months was the “Canadian Long term fixed Income Fund” that gained 12.69%.

Can you imagine all the conversations around the Pass the last year that went like this “Martha lets not pay our taxes this year and incur the 21% penalties, instead we will take that money and invest it in the Canadian Long term fixed Income Fund we could be making up to 12.69%.

Then I hear the line “the taxpayers that do pay on time are being penalized by these people that owe back taxes”. That is not the case, every tax dollar that was projected to come in over the last six year came in and more.

Second if you look in the municipalities audited financial statements they have collected $385,993 in penalties in that timeframe. The municipality every year budgets under revenue for an average of $55,000 to come in from penalties, so if these dollars are not there where do you think that revenue will come from?

Yes your right the rest of us will be penalized.

The present system works every year somewhere around 3-5 taxpayers are threatened with a tax sale out of 4500 tax notices that go out. Less than one tenth of one per cent.

Note: If you disagree with the penalties you can do the following:  

Phone Marion Vanoni at 403-562-8833 or email her at
Or phone the municipality and ask for a list of the council members phone numbers and give them a call.

The call you make today may well reflect on what tax increases you see this coming June, I have always said politicians love nothing more than silence.  

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The drive to seven is on. Paying for it.

After a year of task forces, strategic planning, creation of policy and procedures.
We learnt just a few weeks back that the municipality has been stream lined from the previous cumbersome structure of four departments each with a director reporting to the CAO for a total administration team of five people.
Down to a thrifty three departments with a team of up to six administrators reporting to a CAO for a total administration team of seven people.  

Today I see the next step to the drive to seven is in motion the Director of Planning-Engineering and Operations has been posted.

People keep asking me around town how are they going to pay for all of these positions plus the strategic plan.
I see a number of ways they are going to achieve this.

1. The strategic plan some of those issues are a one time cost so they need to find some easily accessible money. (Back taxes with the big jump in penalties they are anticipating great globs of money to flow in next year prior to those penalties kicking in)

2. Savings from the collective agreement the contract with CUPE is up on January 31st, it was not by accident that Councilor Mitchell was replaced with Councilor Saindon on the bargaining committee I suspect they will probably bring in a high priced lawyer or consultant to assist in this process. There is potentially large savings in the collective agreement the only problem is you have to get the folks sitting on the other side to agree to those changes.

3. The perpetual money generators (more often referred to as taxpayers) the message as already been sent with the increase in franchise fees, ($200,000 per year) and a tax increase last spring of 2% that most people anticipated to be zero.

4. User fees I anticipate that a lot of the fees that people use to pay for various municipal services will be increased.

5. Funding for external groups, many organizations receive funding from the municipality; Museum, Allied arts, Underground mine, Women's Centre etc etc I think you will see less funding for these types of groups.

6. New assessment most people don't realize that every year new assessment increases the tax base by 1-2% which should easily in today's economy cover any cost of living increases the municipality incurs.

It will be interesting six months from now to look back at this list and see how accurate my predictions were!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Does the right hand know what the left is doing?

Interesting story in the Crowsnest Promoter this week "Municipality appeals controversial development" available at

Now we have entered the dawn of the new era in the Crowsnest Pass where policies and procedures set the way that business is done.
This story makes one ask many questions the subdivision board makes a decision that is unanimously passed with two members of council sitting on that board.
The CAO had discussions with members of council and had their support did this include the two councilors that sat on this board, does that include the member of council that sits on the appeal board if not then to have a majority it means every other member of council supports him?
What position will the SDB and its members take at the appeal board?
Why was the applicant not told to rezone?
The proposed development is not compatible with the present downtown commercial businesses in the immediate area?
The municipality also has concerns that the proposed development is inappropriate from a planning standpoint?
Why were these issues not raised by administration or the two councilors at the SDB?

Its going to take quite a policy to ensure that this never happens again

Council Meeting of Nov 29, 2011 Crowsnest Pass

Occasionally where time as allowed I have been posting minutes of some of the council and G+P meeting.

Now Council as decided that they will post approved minutes by noon of the following day, after some members of council suggested that they had been approached by members of the public questioning why this was not being done.

Some people suggested to me that the only reason they were doing it was to out communicate myself with the general public. Wow does my blog really have that much power? I won't take any credit for that.

Back to the point of my post I am not going to do minutes as long as the municipality does they are coming out in a very timely fashion now and I know that the lady that does them can do a far better job than I do.

So if you are interested in the council minutes all you have to do is go to the municipal web site  you will find them underneath the council agenda column.

This of course will not stop me from commenting on these meeting as we all know minutes don't  provide you
with everything that happens at a meeting.


"Revised Municipal Reserve Policy and Procedure"

I found Councilors Londsbury comment about this policy very telling.  "First line of the policy states "The Municipality shall establish Capital and Operational Reserves" this is all well and good but will we have any money to place in reserves?"

Especially when you consider that in 2011 not a dollar was placed into such reserves.

Best of intentions mean nothing unless they are followed up, and as far as reserves the Mayors attempt at humour by saying I will give you a quarter if needs be to make sure something goes in there, does not cut it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

River Run Vistas Investors Meeting Update

I see my fellow blogger beat me to it but here it is the audio from the River Run Vistas Meeting on the

I do feel bad for the investors, I hope they can come up with a resolve that works for them and gets some of their money back. Mr Mintoft comes across as a very smooth talking sales man but then so did the two fellows he used to be in business with, (well technically still is). But the investors will do whats best for them, there is one part of the tape where it sounds like he is going to talk to the municipality about the outstanding taxes. That concerns me especially now the bylaw to increase the penalties on back taxes as gone through first reading. Will the old timers on a fixed income be given a break on those outstanding taxes because they made some poor choices.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

River Run Vistas Investors-Information

We will be having a meeting with Jon Mintoft for all interested Vistas investors on Saturday November 26 from 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.

The location is the Fish Creek Public Library located at 11161 Bonaventure Drive SE in Calgary.

I urge everyone to attend. This is our opportunity to determine whether the revised proposal from Olympia Trust is in our best interest.

Please come prepared with your questions for Jon. There will be an open mic where you can come forth to pose your questions. If you are a little uncomfortable getting up to speak in front of the group, then please email your questions directly to me and I will ask them on your behalf.

Questions that are emailed to me will be asked in the order that I receive them, starting immediately. I will log every question that I receive and place them in a queue for presenting to Jon at the meeting.

Although we will be making an audio recording of the meeting and posting it on the Internet, I'm looking for a very good turnout because few investors have actually met Jon Mintoft. This is your chance at long last!

Jon and I look forward to seeing you on Saturday, November 26. [Please arrive about 10 minutes early.]

Remember to get your questions ready.

All the best,

Myron Achtman

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Shell Game

On November 17, I wrote this post:

Over the last week, I have heard many statements regarding the issue of back taxes:

Lets address some of these comments going back to my original post, remember I said in my mind there are three catergories of taxpayers in arrears.

One being the 50-60% that is owed by a developer, second the people that miss the deadline for one reason or another and have no incentive to pay until the end of the year and third the people that just can’t or struggle to pay.

So back to the comments being made:

1- "The current 10% penalty is one of the lowest in the province and hardly a deterrent". First of all that’s just plain not true if you don’t pay your taxes you get nailed with 10% in June and a further 10% Jan 1st. (By my math that’s 20%)

2- “People are using there money elsewhere by not paying their taxes”. Certainly would not make a lot of sense to be delinquent on a bill that I am going to be charged 20% interest on versus investing the cash in a term deposit at 1-2%.

3- “Yes, some of those unpaid taxes are from developers such as RiverRun etc” How do we determine that? Maybe the problem as been going on for years?. In the audited municipal financial statements there is a section called notes, under that is a sub section titled “Taxes and Grants in place of Taxes receivable” lets look at the last five years.

• 2006-Total $203,669

• 2007-Total $244,727

• 2008-Total $268,400

• 2009-Total $357.519

• 2010-Total $570,581

Notice the numbers don’t really take a big jump until 2009 I think that really reinforces my argument that 50-60% of the arrears are owed by a developer, spilt 2010’s number in half and your almost back to the 2008 number.

4-“ but we have numerous residents who play the shell game every year.” “Numerous” that’s a fairly harsh word, the municipality sends out at least 4500 tax notices a year in my six years on council there was years we saw alarmingly high numbers of people faced with tax sales for being three years behind. Some years as high as 5 or 6. Yes everybody should pay their bills on time but we are not even talking about 1% of our taxpayers going to a tax sale we are talking about one tenth of one per cent. I think once you pull out the number owed by that one developer above you will find that we are very comparative to other communties in Alberta in addition to the historical number for the Crowsnest Pass.

5-Lets assume for a moment we became that unique municipality where everybody paid there taxes on time where would that traditional $40-50,000 in interest income come from?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Financing councils dreams (Another Pot of Gold)

My fellow blogger Mr Prince has posted an article regarding the issue of taxes in arrears . At the public forum on November 9th the Mayor raised the issue of taxes in arrears, specifically the fact that this year there is over $1,040,000 outstanding. Then he went on to talk about how some people are consistently year after year behind on their taxes (which is not illegal) and stated that if they are going to continue to do this it is going to cost them more and more.
Presently if your taxes are not payed on time you get hit with a 10% penalty on June 1st plus a further 10% on January 1st, (Yes that's 20% per year) it sounds like the Mayor's intention is to increase that.

First impression is this is simple everybody should pay their taxes on time and if they don't make them pay.
It's never that simple.

I suspect that probably 50-60% of the outstanding back taxes are owned by developers that will never see the light of day again, slap them with 30-40-50% whatever you like its not going to get the bill paid they will just owe the municipality more. That issue will ultimately get resolved in a back tax sale. (Maybe if somebody bids on the property the only thing that changes by charging that group more is the need to recover a greater amount of dollars at the sale)

The second issue is sometimes you have either residential or business owners that for one reason or another miss the deadline by a matter of days. That's a problem with having a set date that you are charged 10-15-20% if you have not paid by that date, why would you pay before December 31st. If I know that I have been charged the penalty anyway why would I not hold on to my money for an extra six months its not going to cost me any more. There is no Incentive to pay once you have missed the deadline why not charge the 10% on the due date and then discount the penalty if you come in prior to the next deadline.

The next issue and this gets back to the fundamental issue in the Crowsnest Pass the average home owner is now paying roughly $2000 a year in taxes plus close to another $65 a month in Water/Sewer/Garbage plus your utility bills are going up another $5 a month on January 1st. Add all those things together you come up with $237 per month, lets not lose site of probably 60% of our homeowners live on a fixed income.
AISH pays $1188 per month, we have a lot of seniors living on less than $30,000 a year we have reached the point where they are spending 10% of their income just on maintaining the municipality.

So in my opinion you have three groups of late taxpayers:
One being the development company that will only pay its taxes through a tax sale.
Two those that for what ever reason are late on their taxes and really have no incentive to pay prior to the next deadline.
Three those that for either economic or financial reasons just can't keep up.

So if council wishes to increase the rates I can think of only one group above that its really going to have an impact on.

There is no big pot of gold here that's going to finance all those great ideas that were brought up last week and many years prior.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Great Expectations in the Crowsnest Pass! Realized or still just Smoke and Mirrors (Part 3)

Next issue on the agenda was the Protective and Community Services Reorganization which is available at the address below.

Next after just what everybody needed to make the evening a little long (Coffee Break) the Mayor turned the forum over to Mr Robin’s the Interim CAO, I give the guy credit despite what sounded like a terrible cold he did a very clear precise presentation.

Mr Robin’s first spoke about what a wonderful job all the people in the fire and rescue department do, he made it clear that there was no intention to get rid of fire departments just to make the coverage we had better. He spoke to how there was  rumors floating around that a lot of people were upset with the new approach. After ten minutes he gave me the impression that all the affected parties were on board with the only issue left to be resolved being setting up a roster to provide the necessary coverage. Which he was waiting for the fire chiefs to bring back to him.

Then the question was asked by a member of the audience how many new positions were being added to which he replied one the full time Fire Chief which will come at a cost of $105,000 (Wages and Benefits)

Now I’m not buying that the cost of this is going to be $105,000 a year. Let’s go through the different additions at the end of 2010 there was the following in this department:

Director of Community Services who was making less than the proposed amount for the Fire Chief.
There was no Fire Chief there.
Under FCSS there was one full time person.
Under Recreation there was one full time person.
Bylaw Officer there was one position.
Agricultural Fieldman was a part time position.

So what additional costs will be incurred? These are my estimates but I would have no problem being “proven” wrong.

Director of Community Services who will now have his position expanded to cover the Protective Services area. Minimum at least $30,000 (Wages and Benefits)

Fire Chief $105,000 (Wages and Benefits) plus lets not forget the cost of a pickup, cell phone, uniform, courses, computer, etc $30,000)

One additional full time person under FCSS $61,000 (Wages and benefits)

One additional full time person under Recreation $61,000 (Wages and Benefits)

Bylaw Officer I only see one on the chart? council is in the process of changing this to a community peace officer with the indication that a further peace officer will be hired $86,000 per year plus the cost of a pickup, cell phone, etc $30,000

Agricultural Fieldman used to be a part time position which the former Director found grant money for to turn it into a full time position the only question here is what happens after the three year grant runs out.

Total additional costs for next year:
Director $30,000
Fire Chief $135,000
FTE FCSS $61,000
FTE REC $61,000
Peace Officer $58,000 (Only used half year cost)

Total additional costs $345,000 per year this makes no allowance for additional increases in honouriums, on call allowances, or increased hourly rates for firemen or rescue squad members.

Where will the money come from?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Great Expectations in the Crowsnest Pass! Realized or still just Smoke and Mirrors (Part 2)

Next came the presentation of the Top 40 initiatives to turn our community around. At this point Mayor Decoux allowed each member of council to stand up to present a page or two of his strategic plan.
I have listed each point and included a short comment with each.

1. Improve the way we do business through enhanced
planning, processes, procedures and communications.
All good things that every council does, very costly MDP will be at least $60,000

2. Establish a systematic, orderly and universal process for development.
Every development is unique especially in an area like this, can one size fit all work?

3. Conduct a feasibility study to determine which Municipal buildings need to be replaced or consolidated.
Previous councils started this process the information provided allowed the cost of this to drop to $54,000 instead of $95,000.

4. Review municipal organizational structure.
Will talk about this again later but previously we had four departments with five administrators we will now have three departments with up to seven administrators.

5. Create one Crowsnest Pass Fire and Rescue Department with one Chief and multiple Substations.
Will talk about this again later.

6. For programs and services provided, ensure all revenue opportunities are maximized. This is usually code for "how much more do we have to pay"

7. Establish a Community Economic Development Advisory Committee.
Hopefully this is not going to be a the same people as Community Futures(nothing against those people, let them carry on doing their job)we do not need to duplicate what they are already doing we
need to have new people with new ideas involved.

8. Create a plan to attract new development, business and industry.
Every council talks about this and wants to attract new business can be very costly especially when you start talking about "Offer incentives for relocation of industry" or "the addition of an Economic Development Officer"

9. Explore opportunities for enhanced post-secondary education and Centres of Excellence in the community.
Centre of Excellence in Field Studies in Crowsnest Pass. as been ongoing for at five years.

10. Explore the advantages and disadvantages of being in the power distribution business.
Our electrical distribution system as been subsidizing our power rates for thirty years.

11. Raise the profile of Crowsnest Pass with external audiences including the development of an integrated website.
Previous council looked at this very expensive to create and maintain.

12. Once new website is in place, launch a high intensity integrated communications strategy to support economic development activities.
Work with advertising agency to develop and implement this strategy. This will not come cheap.

13. Move forward on the implementation of the key recommendations of the approved Visitor Friendly Tourism Development Plan.
Consider marketing seed money through Council budget. Just a matter of money.

14. Establish a committee to review and re-develop Rum Runner Days and Thunder in the Valley with a focus on increasing safety and increasing potential for economic benefit to the community and local businesses.
I look forward to the improvements this coming July, this weekend as become extremely expensive for the municipality. But is so important To our business sector.

15. Raise the visibility of the multi-use, multi-season trail system as the premier North American attraction for these activities.
Absolutely future councils need to continue the good work that prior councils began over the last six years keep in mind that 95% of the funding for trails was in place or had been applied for prior to this council taking office.

16. Establish a Tourism Board to advise Council.
Another cost who will lead, administrate, pay for.

17. Seek opportunities to develop events that will attract tourists to Crowsnest Pass.
All councils have done this in the past, its not that long ago a group came to council with a really great idea, that council embraced and encouraged in every way it could "Sinister 7"

18. Review Terms of Reference, accountability and marketing of Pass Powderkeg to ensure economic sustainability.
All recreation facilities are subsidized, the question is always how many and to what degree. If anybody believes this facility places a burden on the taxpayer wait until you get an indoor swimming pool.

19. Achieve agreement with the Government of Alberta on the location and the timing of the realignment of Highway 3 so that this can be included in the Municipal Development Plan.
This as already been addressed the word "agreement" almost gives the impression that both parties were involved, the reality as always been that the province "tells"

20. Complete a Commercial Feasibility Study and Develop a Site Master Plan for the Former Crowsnest Centre.
It was appreciated hearing the Mayor agree with the previous position of council that the municipality could not afford this facility, that it had tremendous problems and the best thing was to make the site available for a hotel.

21. Develop an enhanced relationship with the provincial and federal governments and lobby for increased employment opportunities in Crowsnest Pass.
The Mayor was right most levels of government are centralizing their facilities not expanding.

22. Build partnerships and networks to enhance ongoing economic development opportunities.
All councils do this on an ongoing basis I look forward to the results over the next two years. The only problem when you get more than two parties together everybody sees a sense of entitlement for themselves and expects the largest piece of the pie.

23. Develop a strategy to enhance amenities for families and seniors to attract long-term residents to the community.
I hope we can find enough money to afford the amenities we have without increasing taxes.

24. Lobby the provincial government to retain and maintain the wilderness access roads for tourism and recreation activities.
This is all about the Atlas road and as been ongoing for a number of years. Spray Lakes is almost finished logging in that area. Many groups including the municipality want to maintain that road bottom line will be who steps up to the plate to pay for it.

25. Establish a dialogue with stakeholders regarding the expansion of Crowsnest Pass.
This as been going on for years, its basically hoping that one of our neighbours will give up some of its tax base to increase ours. Check out Cold Lakes efforts over the last fifteen years.

26. Approach the provincial government relative to a Crowsnest Pass Unique Area designation.
Last council convinced the province to give us special status, which allowed us to access both rural and urban grants. Council prior to that used the Crowsnest Regulation to have the province pay for our policing. You can only go cap in hand so many times.

27. Imbed a Heritage Resources Strategy in the Municipal Development Plan.
All councils have looked at and encouraged the development of our historical resources. Last council initiated the municipal heritage board.

28. Establish the historic neighbourhoods of Crowsnest Pass and develop appropriate signage.
Good luck with this issue it will be ongoing long after I'm gone and yes there will be costs.

29. Redefine the Terms of Reference of the Culture and Recreation Board as an advisory board to Council.
Is this really necessary? is there enough to justify two boards in these area does the Municipality have the resources to reach the goals of two separate groups.

30. Establish a Housing Advisory Committee.
The market place will decide what type of housing is required. Unless council is looking at affordable housing which will require the involvement of a developer, plus the municipality making either land or cash available.

31. Seek opportunities to work with regional partners to provide programs and services.
The neighbours have been doing this for years a good example is the regional landfill. Other opportunities should be looked at.

32. Commence rebranding strategy for Crowsnest Pass and redefine the image of the community.
Nothing wrong with promoting the community previous council looked at this, the biggest issue as always will be who foots the bill.

33. Create a Community Enhancement Strategy.
This process began with the previous council who took the brave step of bringing in a community standards bylaw. I hope this council never has to sit through the public meetings we did. The majority of last council recognized the importance of cleaning up our community.

34. Promote Crowsnest Pass as one community.
It will probably take not one more council but one more generation to achieve this.

35. Create a Master Green Space and Parks Plan.
I was under the impression that our previous community services director had started working on this a long time ago. Most people don’t know that we have twenty plus parks and it takes $50-80,000 to equip each one.

36. Explore servicing of existing industrial parks.
Just a matter of money and priorities the last number we had thrown at us was $15 million to Sentinel, and $3 million for Frank. Keep in mind if you are using your grants for this you won't be getting money for Infrastructure around town.

37. Address heavy truck parking issues through appropriate Bylaws.
This will be a very timely and costly issue to enforce. I remember the direct route issue with OHV's.

38. Investigate options for solid waste reduction and recycling.
If this community does curb side recycling at no additional cost to the taxpayers it will be famous.

39. Develop an emergency road connecting Blairmore and Coleman.
We have one and was told by previous administration that it would meet our needs.

40. Explore issues regarding random camping.
Enforcement issue,that will again be very timely and costly.

Note further comments: Most of these ideas are good very few of them new I would say probably 90% have been seen in previous reports. The number one issue here is going to be what every other councils ran into when they looked at these ideas, how do you pay for them. There is very little in this plan that does not include some sort of costs in most cases anywhere from the $1,000's to many millions.
During the election campaign we heard so many times about finding the inefficiencies, cutting the fat maybe that was going to be a source of revenue to do all of the above. Then I see a council go on to hire numerous new people and build layers of bureaucracy. This council or any further council can not lose sight of the fact that 60% of our population is on a fixed income and usually not a large one. Just this week they are advertising for a Building Inspector.
Then maybe the Mayor has some different ideas he put up a slide of Municipal costs on there were four areas chosen randomly (Politicians as seasoned as Mayor Decoux seldom picks numbers randomly).
Those areas were Municipal Payroll (almost $5,000,000) Cupe agreement expires December 31st.
Swimming Pool $160,000, Albert Stella Arena $78,000 and the Ski Hill $165,000.
Regardless the single largest issue is how are you going to pay for the above?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Great Expectations in the Crowsnest Pass! Realized or still just Smoke and Mirrors (Part 1)

Went to the town hall meeting last night with much anticipation of all the wonderful things that were going to happen, lots of chatter on the streets people were excited. I thought back to last November when Mayor Decoux spoke about bringing forth three Notices of Motion regarding the Crowsnest Centre, the River Run property plus duplications of services by May of 2011. I thought back more recently to Councilor Saindon’s blog post of Nov 3, “Good news to be announced on Nov 9!

So yes I expected lots, I even considered for a while that maybe my positions on some of these issues were out to lunch. But that’s ok prove me wrong. Any way it started out with the Mayor telling everybody a story about a past experience he had with another community, before you knew it 45 minutes had just flown by.

Then he talked about this council endeavours over the last year to create policies and procedures. I have heard this so many times now that even I am actually starting to believe that previous councils had no policies or procedures in place. Well I have news for you surprisingly we did, were some of them in need of improvement? Absolutely, were there issues that lacked policy? of course. I thank this council for filling those needs and creating policy where there was none. Do I think future councils will think that some of their policies need improving and feel that there are areas lacking of course I do.

Then you felt the aura of excitement in the room when the Mayor stated that he was going to address the big three. Crowsnest Centre site, River Run and Highway 3.

Crowsnest Centre site: the building is in terrible shape, its not feasible for the municipality to do anything there. Council realizes the best opportunity for that site is to pursue commercial possibilities, a hotel. In fact they spent $5000 on a consultant to tell them this and to do all the research to show why this site makes sense. Wow I was blown away to hear the Mayor say everything about the Crowsnest Centre site that the majority of council was preaching over the last three years.

Then the River Run site, to my amazement he stated that this site is involved in a legal process between the various affected parties that could take years to resolve until those parties are finished with the courts. It’s private property there is nothing you can do. More shocking news.

Then we still had Highway 3, drum roll please, couple of deep breaths before the big news. The province is going ahead with the route that they have had gazetted since 1972 crossing over to the south of the valley by the west end of Blairmore heading east and south of bush town and coming out back on the west side of Coleman around the Devon plant. Timing somewhere in the next 20-25 years wow I was shocked the same story we got on the last two councils I sat on. Somebody asked the question about controlling the flow of traffic through the Pass to which the Mayor stated they have had discussions with the department of transport and they were looking at some locations for traffic lights and passing lanes, which made it through the planning stage but got shut down at budget. Strangely the same thing transport told the previous council for at least two years prior to this.

To be continued.......

Friday, November 4, 2011

Municipal Lots in the Crowsnest Pass:

On September 6, 2011 Councilor Mitchell made the following motion which was passed unanimously by council.

M#6248 -11:
Councillor L. Mitchell moved to authorize Administration to reduce the price of
the listed Municipal residential lots by 10% as of September 6, 2011 and remove
the two year building commitment requirement from any future sale of municipal
residential lots.

First impression of this, is it’s not a big deal.

Let me raise the concerns I struggled with on previous council:

Should the municipality be selling lots in competition with the private sector especially in a era where the real estate market is not exactly booming?

The municipality only possesses a relatively small amount of residential lots. Why not sell them in a strong market when you can realize the maximum value for the taxpayers assets?

The argument was made by the proponents of this initiative that if the municipality sold these lots with a requirement that the purchaser must build within two years. A condition that private developers did not require, the municipality would potentially create some much needed tax base.

Well with this motion there is no pressure on a purchaser to build any time soon how many times have we seen lots sit vacant year after year in the Crowsnest Pass.

Maybe that legal requirement is not enforceable, if that's the case don’t give the lots away save them for better times.

What’s going to happen when the assessments come out next June? if I owned a vacant lot in the Pass and it was assessed for more than $70,000 I would be appealing that based on the bench mark price set by the Municipality itself.

Something to think about.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

New CAO announced in the Crowsnest Pass

Tonight prior to the start of the Council Meeting Mayor Decoux announced that Myron Thompson Director of Public Works accepted the position of CAO.

More to follow.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Great Expectations in the Crowsnest Pass-Reality or Smoke and Mirrors

On November 9th at the Elks hall the Mayor will be presenting the strategic plan that will hopefully deal with and resolve the issues that were raised by the Mayor's Taskforce back in May.

I feel from reading the Mayor's report numerous times and based on the comments that I receive from people around town the highest profile issues are the following: The Economy, Tourism, Highway 3, Crowsnest Centre Site, Bridgegate River Run property and Residential Attraction and Retention.
To refresh every body's memories I will include what the Mayor's report had to say on each of these issues. Including the Action, Comments, Timeline, Cost and Source of Funds, and finally the measurement. What you will see below are direct quotes from the Task Force Report.

The Economy:

Adopt a community economic development model:
Disband the current Crowsnest Advisory Committee.
Establish a Community Economic Development Advisory Committee. This committee, established by Council, will advise Council and the EDO and will participate actively in oversight, planning and delivery of results. Council should select members for the Committee through a request for expressions of interest and submission of qualifications. One member of the Committee should be a member of Council. All other members should be chosen based on merit and diversity, resulting in a committee that is representative of the community, including youth and seniors representation.
Hire an Economic Development Officer (EDO) on contract until such time as this position can be added to the Municipal budget.
Establish a budget for administrative support within the budget for the EDO’s office.

The Community Economic Development Advisory Committee is an essential advisory body to work with Council and the EDO to maintain a strategic and effective focus on economic development and bring the voice of the community to these important initiatives.
Hiring an EDO is seen as a top priority in order to implement this Plan and change the direction of the economic future for the community

June-Sept 2011

Cost and Source of Funds
S80,000 per year for EDO salary from Municipal budget

Both in place by the end of Q3 2011


Establish a full-time Tourism Coordinator Position and implement the approved Visitor Friendly Tourism Development Plan.

Community Futures will establish a full-time Tourism Coordinator position. This individual will be responsible for supporting tourism initiatives and will work with the Travel Alberta, the DMO, tourism organizations and operators to achieve tourism growth objectives.

Sept – Nov 2011 and ongoing

Cost and source of Funds
Community Futures budget for Tourism Coordinator

Tourism Coordinator place by Q4 2011

Highway 3

Achieve agreement with the Government of Alberta on the location and timing of the realignment of Highway 3.

The uncertainty around this is a significant barrier to economic development in Crowsnest Pass and clarity will enable commitments from developers on major initiatives. The recent Alberta Competitiveness Council Report, “Moving Alberta Forward”,16 stated the need to increase the province’s ability to supply the Port of Vancouver and improvements to Highway 3 would be a significant contributor to this strategy.

June-November 2011

Cost and Source of Funds

Formal statement on plans for Highway 3

Crowsnest Centre Site

Demolish and remediate the former Crowsnest Centre site and issue an RFP to developers for proposals to redevelop the site.

This site represents a significant opportunity for economic development in the community which must be capitalized on without further delay.

June – Nov 2011

Cost and Source of Funds

New vision for development by Q4 2011

Bridgegate River Run Property

Investigate opportunities to re-appropriate the former Bridgegate River Run property and actively pursue proposals for redevelopment.

This site also represents a significant opportunity for economic development which must be capitalized on without further delay.

Sept 2011 – Dec 2011

Cost and Source of Funds

New vision for development by end of Q4 2011

Residential Attraction and Retention

Develop relationship with Human Resources at Teck and Devon to understand how Crowsnest Pass could assist them in their recruitment and retention processes and attract new residents to Crowsnest Pass:
Work with Teck to identify ways to support their current expansion process.
Identify long-term opportunities for ongoing attraction of employees to the organizations and to Crowsnest Pass, including affordable housing.

Teck and Devon are important partners in the Crowsnest Pass economic future and the relationship with these organizations must be mutually beneficial.

May – June 2011

Cost and Source of Funds
No Cost

Successful attraction of expanded workforce to Teck and Crowsnest Pass

Do you agree with these being the issues, should there be others. What do you feel should be done, and what are your expectations, wishes or hopes for resolution of these issues.
Do you think will are going to see timely achievable resolutions to the problems listed or will it be smoke and mirrors?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

G + P Meeting October 25, 2011

Adoption of Agenda:

CAO deleted item (b) under delegations, added item (c) Special Council Meeting under Topics for discussion, also added a Legal issue under In Camera.

Motion to accept agenda with additions passed unanimously


1. Kevin Phillips, Phillips Partners Inc-Electrical Distribution Overview. The municipality owns roughly half the electrical distribution system within the Crowsnest Pass. Phillips Partners is a private company that assists the municipality in the planning, operations and purchasing of power for that system.

2. Corey Froese-2000 Frank Slide Hazard Assessment-The CAO requested that this be deferred to a G+P meeting in November.

Topics for Discussion:

1. Amendment to Municipal Government Act Re: Advertising.-Administration brought forth a resolution to encourage the provincial government to allow municipals the option to advertise on their web sites, or social media sites instead of in a local newspaper by amending the MGA.

2. Manager of Operational Services-Position award- Administration informed all present that Robert Schultz former operations Manager for the Town of Innisfail would be starting in this position October 31,2011.

3. CAO requested that a Special Council meeting take place at 1pm on Thursday October 27, 2011 to deal with a personnel issue In Camera.

In Camera: Motion to go In Camera passed unanimously.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Council Meeting of October 18, 2011 Crowsnest Pass

Municipality of Crowsnest Pass

Oct 18,2011

Organizational meeting:

Committee Appointments: The only change made during this process was Councilor Mitchell took a position on the Ag Services Board then in turn Councilor Saindon took Mitchell’s place on the Municipal Bargaining Committee.

(The significance of this will be revealed in the next few months as the collective agreement with CUPE expires December 31st)

Motion to accept passed unanimously.

Deputy Mayor: Councilors Gallant and Londsbury agreed to switch positions in the rotation.

Motion to accept passed unanimously.

Meeting adjourned at 7:07pm

Council Meeting of October 18, 2011

Public Hearing: None

Adoption of Agenda: Acting CAO Myron Thompson added a personnel item under In Camera. Also requested Council to defer Item B under other Business to a later date. Motion to accept the Agenda as amended was passed unanimously

Adoption of previous minutes:
Minutes of the Council Meeting of Oct 4, 2011, with a minor correction. Motion to accept was passed unanimously

Delegations: None

Administrative and Agency Reports:
1. Kim Lutz-Appointments to the Agricultural Services Board Council passed a motion to accept Kim Lutz’s recommendations for the Board unanimously.

2. Enmax Contract- Motion to accept passed unanimously.

3. Request to lease road allowance-This involves a garage that as been sitting on municipal property since the late 1970’s on 18ave in Coleman. Motion was made by Councilor Mitchell to have the owner remove the garage at their expense by April 31st 2012. Motion to accept was passed by a vote of 5-2 (Saindon and Gallant opposed)

Business arising from the Minutes: None

1. Royal Canadian Legion Coleman branch. Looking for council member to attend Remembrance day services.

2. Municipal Heritage Board request for funding. They requested the municipality pay for the costs of accommodation and travel to attend a conference. Council informed administration that there was no money in the budget for these types of requests. Motion to deny the request was passed unanimously.

Committee Reports:

1. Minutes of August 23, 2011 G+P committee meeting, no discussion. Motion to accept passed unanimously.
2. Minutes of September 13, 2011 G+P committee meeting, no discussion. Motion to accept passed unanimously
3. Minutes of August 31, 2011 Subdivision and Development Board. Question raised regarding a retaining wall built in Bellevue, CAO Thompson told council the wall must be removed by the end of the month or legal action will begin. Motion to accept passed unanimously

1. Bylaw 834, 2011- Regulated Rate Tariff (all 3 reading). Motion passed first reading unanimously, second reading passed unanimously, consideration for third reading passed unanimously, third reading passed 5-2 (Saindon and Saje opposed)
2. Bylaw 835, 2011 –Default Supplier Tariff. (all 3 reading). Motion passed first reading unanimously, second reading passed unanimously, consideration for third reading passed unanimously, third reading passed 5-2 (Saindon and Saje opposed)

Note: Several councilors complained about being forced by administration to vote on all three readings of the bylaws above. They did not have to, unlike most issues presented at council that require a majority of council to support them before they take effect. Bylaws can only be given all three reading at one meeting only if after second reading all members of council vote in favor of allowing third reading to take place any one councilor could have forced this issue to be readdressed at the next council meeting.

Notices of Motion: None

Other Business:
1. Municipal Heritage Board Appointments/Advertising for new members. Council appointed John Kinnear by unanimous vote to sit on this board to represent the Ecomuseum board. No motion made to advertise the other vacant position.

2. Property Tax Bylaw 821,2011 deferred to a later meeting.

Council Member reports: Some councilors listed of meetings they attended.

Public Input: None

Motion to go In Camera: Passed Unanimously

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fire Departments create much debate in the Crowsnest Pass

Since the announcement in late September there as been a tremendous amount of debate about the changes within the fire departments in the Crowsnest pass.

First of all I feel not enough as been shared with the community, for years here there has been much discussion over the need for four fire departments. Were they all necessary could we get by with three, two, one who knows.

The arguments in favour of four departments given to me were due to the size of the community, and the fact that a lot of volunteers work shift work at the mines it was necessary to have the coverage we do.

The arguments against four departments were the cost of both operating them and the capital costs four fire trucks etc etc.

The two issues that I have heard come up again and again in the last three weeks are the issues of costs and volunteer coverage.

First of all costs, even from the people who felt that we did not need four fire halls, the question as been asked over and over again how does this plan save money. In my time on council the cost of running four fire departments was around $350,000 a year with each department costing anywhere from $75-100,000.
So the question being asked of me is where will the municipality save any money even if you close one, two fire halls. By hiring a full time fire chief, an assistant fire chief, increasing the honorariums and paying an higher rate of pay, this change will increase costs.

The second issue that keeps getting raised is the issue of coverage the new plan calls for ten people to be on call in the community night and day 365 days per year. Is that possible  using only volunteers most of whom work a shift schedule. With eighty firemen maybe, how long is that number going to stay at eighty? Acting CAO Robins stated in the Promoter a couple of issues back that they fully expect that number to drop over time, he also stated that this community has about three times the number of firemen for a community of our size. 

We have not heard the last of this issue, time will tell both how the new structure works and how cost effective it is. I truly hope the community doesn't receive a lessor service by creating a larger bureaucracy.

This is truly a decisive issue look at the polls on this blog 39% of the voters approve the restructuring 60% don't. The Promoter is at an even higher number opposed 67% and the Herald is pretty well spilt at 50/50.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Lies and truths in the Crowsnest Pass

Issue of advertisng: Very interested to read the editiorial in the Pass Herald this week I will quote "For example, stating that it was costing taxpayers in the Crowsnest Pass $50,000 a year for advertising is a blatant lie"

Well folks lets set the record straight first of all the issue of advertising was on the G+P meeting agenda last night which was discussed by council for almost a half hour. Within that discussion is was pointed out by administration that the sum of between $6-700,000 as been spent in the last seven years on advertising. I have trouble with my math but that comes out to close to $100,000 per year.

Second of all I would like to point out the following:  go to November 2, 2010 Council Meeting Minutes on page 2 is a report on Ms Lisa Syguteks presentation to council regarding advertising it states the following regarding 2008 advertising costs  (remember it was tendered out for 2009 and 2010).
  • 2008 advertising in the Crowsnest Pass Herald – approximately $30,000
  • 2008 advertising in the competitor– approximately $35,000
For those of you that don't know Ms Sygutek is the publisher of the Pass Herald. If anybody requires further information I have the numbers for at least two years prior to 2008 just have to spend a little time digging them up.

But you don't have to take my word for it check with the municipality $700,000 for the last seven years and check the minutes from Nov 2,2010

More to follow:

Always intrigued me to watch a politician attempt to play both sides of an issue, the MGA does not require municipalities to advertise everything they do, the legal requirement calls for just a few issues to be advertised.
So last night within the debate about advertsing administration states that $6-700,000 as been spent in the last seven years. One of the councilors asks the question what would that number have been if we had only advertised what we were legally required to. Administration states that it would have been approximatly a $100,000.
Then Councilor Gallant speaks up he states the following "You know I supported us advertising in both papers it was important to communicate with the public to get our message out, but I also believe that we should only be advertising what the MGA requires us to do"
Well you can't have it both ways the CAO as just told you that if the municipality had advertised what it was legally required to do the advertising would have been cut by 85%. But on the other hand you stated it was important to advertise in both papers to communicate with the public!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fire Departments/Rescue Meet with Administration

Big meeting Thursday night at the Elks Hall between, Administration, Fire departments and Rescue.

The press release is available on the municipal web site regarding Emergency and Protective Services.

Note: Another chance to voice your opinion on this issue

Here is the way it was explained to myself.

There will be a Director of Protective and Community Services hired, basically a replacement for the former Director (Cam Mertz) probably cost the community a little more money due to the expanded duties of the position.

Under that position will be a Manager of Protective Services/Fire Chief I am told that this will be another new full time position. (You are not going to fill this position for less than $80,000 a year, plus a pickup, computer, clerical support etc etc.)

Under that will be a Deputy Chief which I am told will still be a volunteer position.

Then from there the municipality will be broken into two areas West (Coleman + Blairmore) and East (Hillcrest + Bellevue) each will have a District Chief. So the four positions that used to be fire chiefs will now be replaced with a West and East District Chief.

Then there will be a rotation put in place (Emergency Response Model Deployment) which will for example in the West have Coleman providing coverage for week 1 and 3 each month and Blairmore providing coverage in week 2 and 4 each month.

Once again the way it was explained to be is each squad will have a minimum of five people on call during its turn in the rotation.

My opinion of where this is going. The Fire Departments have always been a very hot potato here politically. I was told a long time ago that the politician that stood up and demanded fire departments to be closed would be committing political suicide.

So how do you achieve that goal with out a huge back lash. First of all you bring in a consultant to look at your protective services. (Politicians love consultants, they have somebody to blame for their actions other than themselves).

Then you come out with a recommendation that says you could better serve the municipality by having two areas of coverage instead of the present four. In reality, you will only have one fire department in each area at any given time because in the East for example Hillcrest will provide coverage in week 1 + 3 and Bellevue in week 2 + 4.

Any of us that have been privy to the numbers will tell you that there are very few fires in the East end of the community, in a year the argument will be made that the East as been provided ample coverage with one department. Due to the fact that there were very few incidents and you have only one fire department covering you at any one time. Nobody will speak up in the west because their departments will not be touched at that time.

In essence the fire departments will do such a good job of providing coverage that they themselves will prove that you can get away with one department on each side of the municipality. Even our former Mayor stated in a strategic planning meeting that some where down the road there would only be two fire departments one on each side of the slide.

I hope that the municipality will maintain the fire coverage it requires, I also hope that there is going to be long term sustainable funding found to pay for another new position.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The price of silence.

Now taxpayers of the Crowsnest Pass is the time to speak up.

It’s a very simple process. Speak and you may be heard, say nothing and you definitely will not.

Right now as you are reading this post, administration is gathering information from its various departments, from the various groups that are subsidized by your tax dollars.

Administration is taking that information to prepare a three year budget, that’s right a three year budget another change. We could debate all day long the merits of longer term budgeting, but in my opinion the greater concern with a budget of that length is the opportunity for input is taken away.

The one the most important area that politicians try to avoid input from is you the taxpayers, there is nothing more politicians love than “Silence” they will tell you different, they may well offer you opportunities such as open houses, surveys, etc. Deep down what they really long for is “Silence”. Especially with a three year budget, get through this process there will be eighteen months to the next election, by then everybody will have settled down and they won’t have to worry about this issue one year into the next term.

One of the advantages of an annual budget is that by the time the last one is passed by a council, the bills are received by the taxpayers its only four months to the next election. The whole process is fresh on the mind of taxpayers, the issues, the debates, the justifications for councils actions, politicians don’t want you to have a fresh recollections of that process.

This is a small community in my six years I watched councilors flip flop on issues because special interest groups put pressure on them. The most important group of all needs to speak up you the taxpayers.

How do you do that? these members of council live in this community most people know them, tell them how you feel, call them their phone numbers are available at the municipal office 403-562- 8833. Write letters to the editor, vote on surveys right now the Pass Herald is asking for opinions on the Franchise fee increases.

Why the fear now? Just last week Council approved increases in Franchise Fees during that debate the acting CAO referred to a need to bring in an additional $550,000 next year (the equivalent of an 8% tax increase) to satisfy the goals and objectives of councils strategic plan.

I understand many people in this community are desperate for change. The strategic plan is going to be the tool used to drive the need for additional taxes. What ever became of doing more by becoming more efficient? On October 13,2010 Councilor Saindon stated the following “My many years of experience in operations within large corporations reveals to me that we have a huge opportunity to take these cost reductions and use them to keep our tax increases at or near 0%”.

The Crowsnest Pass according to the 2006 census is the oldest community in the province our average age is almost 50, we have the largest percentage of seniors living on a fixed income in the province. Who can afford an 8% increase?

If this or any other council wishes to get creative and do new and wonderful things then they need to get creative and find ways to do more with the same, find those cost reductions Councilor Saindon referred to.

This issue makes me think about Councilor Gallants vision, his platform I quote “As a councilor, I will not vote for any increase to property taxes for any reason - period! It is time to take a hard look at the services we have and the way business is conducted by the municipality. We must set realistic boundaries and be firm about not crossing them. There is money out there, we just have to stop wasting what we have and start tapping into sources we have ignored. As a businessman, I believe very strongly in efficiency. When I discover that my business is doing something that is unnecessarily costing us money, I do not wait a year or two to start investigating it - I put the people or plans in place to solve it right away. The municipal council needs to have that same commitment and drive; it is our duty to the taxpayers of our town. Once we have learned to be more diligent, we should then go further and reduce our property taxes”

Only one year later administration is talking about tax increases? contact your councilors remind them what they said a year ago. Tell them how you really feel about tax increases remind them that their first budget we were going to see zero increases and it really ended up being 2%.

Speak up now let the members of council hear where you sit before they pass a three year budget not after. Take a moment read the list down the right hand side and decide is this the change you are willing to pay more and more for. Pick a cost reduction that as saved the municipality one dollar from that list.

Is the last sentence of Councilor Gallant's quote in the Strategic Plan “Once we have learned to be more diligent, we should then go further and reduce our property taxes”

I and a lot of other people in the Pass sure hope so.

Remember more than anything “Silence” will cost you.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Change its Coming, Franchise Fees, Taxes

Breaking News:

Well the public demanded change and by jolly Jan 1st Council is going to give it to you.

Yes you will defininitly see change, on your power and gas bill.

The CAO stated last night to achieve the goals and objectives of Council strategic plan the municipality needs to bring in an additional $500,000 in revenue next year, you can achieve that by raising franchise fees, mill rate etc. He went on further to state that if they didn't do franchise fees it would equate to an 8% tax increase.

My doesn't change feel good.

The initial motion by Councilor Mitchell was to keep the Atco charge at the present rate of 15%, and to increase the Fortis rate from 8% to 14% (within the ensuing debate he suggested that it could go to 17% next year). Then Councilor Londsbury made a friendly amendment to increase the Atco rate to 20% which was accepted by Councilor Mitchell. The motion passed by a vote of 5-2 (Saindon, Gail opposed)

What does this mean to you the taxpayer?
Fortis (electricity bill) will increase by $32.64 a year and bring in for the municipality an additional $147,823 a year.
Atco (Gas bill) will increase by $22.32 a year and bring in for the municipality an additional $47,638 per year.  That's a total of an additional $195,461 per year coming out of the taxpayers pocket.
Still leaves the municipality looking for an additional $350,000 in revenue to stasify the goals of the forth coming strategic plan.

NOTE: You can vote at the Pass Herald on how you feel about these franchise fee increases  @

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Latest Poll Results "Transparency your opinion"

The latest question was: 

Do you feel that the municipalities business is being conducted in a transparent manner?

Out of 39 votes 29 or 74% said no. 10 votes or 26% said yes.
Take it for what its worth, but that's a fairly one sided vote.

My next question involves the relationship between this council and the media, thinking back to my last term on council, I certainly felt that the last council was followed much closely scrutinized than this council by the media. I feel that some parts of the  media were very biased to some of the previous council. In almost a year I have not read one negative comment, article or editorial about this council.

Maybe these guys are doing everything right? Any way it will be interesting to see if how my readers agree or not.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

More Taxes? Maybe just in a different format.

Last week at the council meeting there was a motion made by Councilor Saje to approve a recommendation from administration to conduct a Facility Audit/Needs Assessment at a cost of up to $90,000.

The motion was passed by a vote of 5-2, (councilors Mitchell and Londsbury opposed). No question this process needs to take place some of our building are in bad shape, there were questions raised by various councilors regarding facilities that were not on the original list, fire halls, seniors facilities etc. To my surprise knowing the positions that some of the councilors previously took nobody raised the Crowsnest Centre.

The big question in my mind is how was this going to be paid for? Administration is recommending that the dollars be taken out of the MSI funding that the municipality receives every year from the provincial government. This is a reasonable approach except it now creates a hole somewhere else. That money has been received by the municipality for quite a few years it’s always been spent, now some where down the line there will be a $90,000 shortfall.

But the optimistic side of my brain says that’s no problem there will surely be saved $90,000 some where in the operation by finding more efficiency improvements that were so often spoke about in the last year this hope did not last long.

Last night I attended the G+P meeting to my surprise during a discussion about organizational responses to public correspondence/calls. The acting CAO made the comment that administration could well be looking at 1-2 more clerical positions for the office. Obviously, no improved efficiency savings in that part of the operation, keep in mind that every person added to the municipality adds another $50-60 thousand per year.

Going back to my original comment where are they going to find additional revenues.

To very little surprise item #5 under topics for discussion is Franchise fees, what has become a great revenue generator for municipalities over the years and allows politicians the opportunity to claim they did not raise your property taxes, very similar to municipal water/sewer/garbage bills.

Right now on your utility bills you will see a line item marked Municipal Franchise fee between the various companies it brings in $360,000 a year, council will be reviewing these rates in the very near future.

On behalf of the over taxed residents of this community I surely hope that all these studies, audits, task forces are going to be paid for by dollars saved in improved efficiencies not by increases in taxes (property, utilities, franchise fees, user fees etc).

Monday, September 12, 2011

Crowsnest Pass Public Transit Survey

In the last few days you should have received your utility bill, included with it is a survey on public transit.

For more information on public transportation and the costs associated with it take a look at the following post:

I know most people take those surveys and throw them in the garbage typically out of 3500 surveys mailed out the municipality will be lucky if they get 200 back which represents less than 6% of the population.
The problem with that of course is that all politicians have an agenda, things that they would like to see happen over the course of their term.
For example these surveys are usually filled out by people that passionately care about the issue at hand.
So I expect that the vast majority of the surveys the municipality receives will support public transit.

How will the politicians react? well those that are against spending $300,000 a year of taxpayers money will argue that the response represents such a small percentage of the taxpayers that its recommendations are irrelevant.
The politicians that support spending $300,000 a year of taxpayers money will argue that the over whelming response of the public was in support of this. Obviously the 90% that did not respond would have if they really cared about this issue.

The bottom line here is which ever side of this issue you stand on if you do not respond a very small percentage of the voters will have a much larger say in how this issue is decided. 


I noticed the absence of one key question on the survey "Would you be willing to have your taxes increase to provide a public transit system?"


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Crowsnest Centre Lands-Development Feasibility Study

Administration brought forth a recommendation to spend $4000 to use Rich Eichler Consulting Ltd to conduct a feasibility study to identify development opportunities for this site.
I was anticipating a large fight over this proposal, when previous council rezoned that land to commercial Councilor Mitchell was furious, in fact Councilor Taje had proposed to put aside that land for future municipal use and Councilor Mitchell strongly supported that position.
So I expected that strong voice to lead the opposition to this proposal, I also expected some members of this council to spearhead the drive to invest into and reopen the centre. All I heard for the last couple of years from those individuals was what a great place it was and all it gave to this community and how critical it was to keep it going.
(Remember the editorials Crowsnest Pass will lose the education consortium if this place closed)
But then again based on their actions most of our elected officials have realised that the municipality could not even afford to operate a library in Bellevue let alone a 30,000 square foot decrepit building that the Alberta government determined to be unsuitable has a hospital 35 years ago.

Any way maybe I'm of base here and the recommendation of this study will be to use the site for future municipal use.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Transparency the promise every politician makes but seldom keeps.

Remember a long, long time ago when a group of people sat in a public forum talking about change and Transparency? Last October to be exact down at the Elks Hall in what some people are now referring to has Crowsnest West (Blairmore for those that don’t want to change everything).

On August 22th I posted the following update on some council business that had transpired on August 16th. “Is this the way business should be conducted?” available at the following address.

Personally I did not agree with the way this issue was dealt with and neither did a lot of other people I spoke to around town. But never the less at least Council and administration at that time felt the right thing to do was to show the public that they were moving forward on this issue and hiring a consultant to conduct the audit. (TRANSPARENCY)

Now we come to the meeting of September 5, 2011 his worship the Mayor and the council are reviewing the minutes of the August 16th meeting. The Mayor raises the issue of the “Enforcement Services Audit” that was brought to Council by the Director of Finance. Strangely he wants to know why this issue was raised by administration, that there was not a need to. Apparently based on the comments I heard Tuesday night when the contract was signed with “Transitional Systems Inc” to provide the Municipality with its Interim CAO, it was stated that their employees, agents etc could be used for other studies, audits etc as required by Council.

With time to reflect on this issue, the following questions jumped into my head.

First why did nobody raise a concern or objection on August 16th, none of the parties to the agreement not the CAO or any member of Council, in fact the individual who now raised these concerns on September 5th was the same individual that made the motion on August 16 to “engage Transitional Systems Inc. to undertake an Enforcement Services Audit…….” When the vote took place it was passed by a count of 6-1 with only Councilor Saje opposed.

Second concern based on my understanding of the Mayor’s comments are we to believe that the agreement they have with Transitional Systems provides council the authority to do any study, audit etc as they see fit without bringing it back for a vote at a council meeting. This only creates an issue in the sense that the business of council should be conducted in public, at least providing the public the opportunity to attend the meeting and hear the information themselves if they choose to attend. At minimum allow the press to report on the information for the public to consume when they read their local paper. (Transparency)

Third will the public ever be made aware of what’s in this contract with Transitional Systems Inc. What other work can be handed to them without it being discussed in the public forum, what kind of taxpayers dollars are being spent (Yes they will be substantial).

The cynical part of my brain says based on the lack of comments and concerns about the issue on August 16 that if I had not raised it on my blog and made the public aware of it that it would have never been mentioned at the meeting of Sept 5th. But maybe I'm wrong.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Breaking News in the Crowsnest Pass-More change

Director of Community Services Cam Mertz is no longer employed with the Municipality.

First in June the CAO Tully Clifford left the municpality.

Then in July Director of HR and Legislative Services Lynne Cox left the municipality.

Now the Director of Community Services.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Interesting Poll results, New CAO when?

I asked the following question:

Should the municipality spend the additional tax dollars to send all members of council to conventions?

Not surprisingly out of 39 people that took a moment to vote a solid 76% agreed with the arguments presented on my previous post regarding the issue of the Convention attendance policy.
While there is no question that there is "some" value to sending some members of council to these events there is no question that the odd meeting can be set up with the right people, also no question that some of the education sessions are of value. But it does not take 8-9 people to take notes in a education session or pick up relevant literature and it does not take 8-9 voices to represent the municipalities interests in those meetings. Has a former Mayor told me at my first convention they are a nice perk for councils and CAO's but not at a cost of $30,000 per year!

My next poll is regarding the search for a CAO, last year when we went through the debate about hiring a new CAO, the minority on council were adamant that it should have been left for the next council to fill the position, I and some of my fellow councilors disagreed stating that there would not be enough time for a new council to be placed in office and find a CAO in time to deal with the budget process 2 months. Of course the minority of council felt that was an ample time.

Based on that debate and considering the last CAO gave his notice on May 19th, pleased take a moment to address my new poll which asks the simple question are you surprised that a permanent CAO as not been found three and a half months after giving his notice?  

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Coming soon, time to pay the piper

Last week at the council meeting the head of finance was giving the council an update on the financial state of the municipality to the middle of August. Within that discussion somebody pointed out that there is an almost $300,000 liability for accumulated sick time for the municipal staff, a couple of other councilors seemed unaware of this. Which surprised me in the sense that this number appears in the annual municipal financial statements every year, which council just reviewed three months ago.

For the benefit of my readers where does this come from?

Municipal employees hired after July 1 2008 receive one and a half sick days per month (prior to that it was two days per month this was changed during the bargaining process at that time). If they do not use these days they get to accumulate them up to a maximum of 120 days, which they are then paid out on a 50% basis when they retire. (For example 60 days times 8 hours @ approx $30 per hour equals $14,400 per employee). The difficulty with this benefit is that after an employee has been with the town for less than seven years the 120 days are accumulated and in some cases it becomes an additional 18 days a year off. If they do not use them they lose them, there is simply no incentive to not use them.

Now they are aware maybe this council will have some ideas to deal with this issue.

The next issue related to this and where it becomes increasing difficult to manage the municipal finances especially when the workforce is expanding is the cost of payroll. I am told that the town of Pincher Creek’s employees just turned down a three year contract with a wage increase of 3%, 2.5% and 2.75%. The Municipalities contract with CUPE is up at the end of the year, applying those same increases to the Pass would see some huge additional costs. In the 2010 financial statement (which would not cover the new positions created this year total cost of Salaries, Wages and Benefits was $4,923,486 increase those numbers by the percentages above 2012 would go to $5,071,191, 2013 $5,197,970, and 2014 $5,340,915.

That’s an additional $839,618 over the next three years or to put it in very simple terms it would take an average increase of 2.4% in taxes each year to accommodate those additional costs. Several factors that will come in to play here; the impact of the new positions created this year, maybe Cupe will be willing to accept less in this round of bargaining than they would in Pincher and surrounding areas. Or the workforce through gains in efficiencies will shrink enough to offset any additional wage increases.

Just some things to think about especially if there is further consideration to increase the municipal workforce.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Is this the way business should be conducted?

On Tuesday August 16, an  item titled “Enforcement Services Audit” appeared on the agenda, with a recommendation coming forth from Administration stating the following.

“That council direct administration to engage Transitional Solutions Inc. to undertake an Enforcement Services Audit to examine the existing Municipal enforcement practices in reference to the enforcement of Provincial statutes and Municipal Bylaws. The Audit is not to exceed $7,000 and will be assumed within the Municipal Enforcement Budget.

The argument was made by the Interim CAO Kevin Robins about concerns in this area that required clarification. Administration also stated that the Municipality did not have the expertise internally to conduct this audit.

This recommendation was voted on by Council, which subsequently passed by a vote of 6-1 with only Councilor Saje opposed.

What appears at first impression has just another study to clear up an area of confusion and answer questions raised by council and the residents of the community due to frustrations in the area of the Municipality’s enforcement program.

Upon further study this recommendation raises other questions? the Interim CAO who is also the CEO of the Transitional Solutions is recommending that the municipality conduct an audit on our Enforcement Services using an outside contractor that just happens to be “Transitional Solutions”.

I know its only $7,000 but no tendering process no opportunity for any other company to take a look at this?????
Does anybody else have concerns regarding even the perception of a conflict of interest?

Friday, August 12, 2011

“Convention policy receives thrashing”

This was the title of an article posted in the local paper a few weeks back, available at the address below.

Previous council put in place a policy that no more than three members of council could attend conventions at any one time, with each councilor being allowed to attend at least once during their term. The municipality belongs to three organizations that hold conventions every year the FCM, AUMA, and the AAMDC.

Mayor Decoux in a very strong tone referred to this as “an archaic defeatist type of policy” the acting CAO addressed the importance of the AUMA convention, with it being an excellent opportunity for council to network with peers in other municipalities, to attend valuable education sessions, to deal with the business of the association and their resolutions. He also mentioned that they would be trying to line up meetings with various provincial ministers.

Sounds good in theory?

When I was first elected to council in 2004 I went to a couple of conventions, in both Edmonton and Calgary. I find out going through my first budget process that $30-40,000 of the taxpayers money was being spent a year attending these conventions. Nothing to sneeze at but with an open mind I felt maybe it was money well spent. Let’s look at the different aspects of these conventions:

Meeting peers from other municipalities, true no question about it you get to meet a lot of people, keep in mind council attends regional meetings on an annual basis where they get to meet all of their fellow councilors from both this corner of the province and the Elk Valley municipalities with issues similar to ours. Outside of the immediate area how many municipalities really care about what’s going on in the Crowsnest Pass they have their own issues to deal with.

There also is the opportunity to find out what other municipalities are doing, let’s keep in mind that with the invention of the Internet you can find out what anybody is doing in the few strokes of the keyboard. If you really want to be “archaic” you could pick up the phone and call other communties.

Valuable education sessions, some are really good some are like watching paint dry, the one’s that are good, lots of people attend and the others very few attend. Most of the sessions provide literature which a councilor could bring back and copy for his fellow councilors. Also we asked that councilors bring back a report on the valuable information they heard, and share it with all of council. No different than went you send a councilor to the Oldman watershed committee, or any other meeting you don’t send all of them you ask for a report back.

Business of the association, there are 3000 people in a big room voting on resolutions that for the most part are decided by substantial margins one way or the other, the fact that Crowsnest Pass as three votes or seven does it really matter?

Meetings with ministers, two types first of all you have a session with ministers where they answer questions from the room then they go out on the floor to speak to the delegates. Its really builds your ego up when a politician looks at your name tag and says “Dean good to see you again, I hear things are going really well in Canmore! Oops sorry Crowsnest Pass” I sat and counted one time a minister speak to 25 delegates in thirty minutes, I questioned how many of there comments he would remember two days from now.

Second there are the scheduled meetings with ministers in a private room, you get 20-30 minutes to meet with a minister and his assistant. Most councils have a spokesmen either the Mayor or the CAO who will do 90% of the speaking for your group lets be realistic you are not going to have eight people yapping of in a short meeting with a minister. Do you really need all seven members of council there?

A few things that were missed by the Mayor and the CAO:

Hospitality rooms. these are meeting rooms in various hotels where delegates are staying. Set up by vendors that deal with municipalities: engineering firms, law firms, and suppliers. You get to go eat free food and all the booze you can drink, certainly saw a lot more enthusiastic councilors in these rooms than I did at the education sessions. These are the types of people that municipal administrators should be dealing with, not politicians.

Costs: $30-40,000 a year you may ask how can that be. Well remember each member of council gets a $160 per day times 7 that’s $1120 per day times at minimum 4 days per convention. Hotel rooms are going to cost at least $200 per day times 8 (Including CAO) that’s $1600 per day. Mileage most councilors take their spouse which means you will have a minimum of 4 people charging mileage $2000 to Edmonton.

Keep in mind the FCM is usually held outside Alberta in places like Quebec City, Whistler, Halifax etc. Even more costly when you factor in plane fares.

Stephen Mandel Mayor of Edmonton did not attend this year he stated “the FCM group hasn't been effective in pushing civic concerns in Ottawa”

Back to the issues are there a value to these conventions?

I believe there is some, there is no question that occasionally some good information is picked up, and some of the right hands are shaken. But nothing that one or two individuals couldn’t share with a larger group.

Should all seven members of council attend? I don’t believe so it’s a luxury that a community with our lack of financial strength cannot afford.

When you are closing libraries and consolidating shops to be more efficient and cut costs why does every member of council need to go to a convention?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Municipal Press Release Crowsnest Pass


Crowsnest Pass Operational Services (Public Works) is implementing
plans to improve overall efficiency and service delivery to community

These plans include numerous functional changes that will see improved
utilization of resources, improved efficiency and increased accountability.

The first step will be the consolidation of the Blairmore and Coleman shops
into one facility which will be the Blairmore Facility. This facility will now be
known as the Crowsnest West Facility, while Hillcrest facility, which also
serves Bellevue, will be known as Crowsnest East Facility.

These changes will take place over a relatively short period of time and
residents should be assured that service levels will not be reduced as a
result of these changes.

Myron Thompson
Director of Operational Services
Municipality of Crowsnest Pass

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Rum Runner Days weekend.

Well here is your chance to make your comments about the weekend, good bad or indifferent. Weather it be the parade, show and shine, carnival, Thunder in the Valley, etc.

What did you think, is the weekend worth the $100,000 of taxpayers money that goes in to it?

Should the weekend continue in its present form, should the municipality be taking over the entire weekend as suggested by our local leaders or just leaving it alone.

Looking forward to any and all comments, now's your chance to speak.


Thursday, June 30, 2011

Economic Task Force-Rum Runner Days/Thunder in the Valley

What I believe is going to be one of the most controversial recommendations in the Task Force Report is #10 regarding the whole Rum Runner/Thunder in the Valley weekend.
Below we have the Task Force recommendation and there suggestions about how to achieve it.
Some of council is already chomping at the bit to get to this issue, a few meetings back, Councilor Gail asked the CAO if they have received all the financial information from the Fire Dept yet, the previous CAO stated they were still waiting. Early in the year Mayor Decoux wanted administration to find out who owns Thunder in the Valley.
This last meeting Mayor Decoux notified a number of local residents that this year will be the last year that this weekend will be ran the way it’s always been, that next year there will be significant change. Councilor Gail this week also asked if it would not be better for the municipality to take back over the camping along the train tracks to realize that revenue for municipal coffers.

Then to top it all off Mayor Decoux stated that the real cost of this weekend for the municipality will be well in excess of $100,000.

Here is the recommendation and suggestions from the task force on how to enhance the weekend I have put a Note with my comments after each point

10. Review and re-develop Rum Runner Days/Thunder in the Valley with a focus on increasing potential for economic benefit to the community and local businesses:”

Establish a community committee to run Rum Runner Days/Thunder in the Valley with the support of the Tourism Coordinator. Note: This would clearly tie the two events together the arguments have always been made by the affected groups that they are two separate events.

Develop a financial model that is transparent regarding sources and uses of funds and results in profit to the Municipality, local businesses and the event. Note: If the two events are being tied together will all parties share all financial information as requested by Councilor Gail.

Consider payment for parking and bussing into a central location as a revenue generator and resolution for egress problems in the past. Note: Wow what a logistic nightmare, 50 people on a bus even if you forced half the crowd lets say 15000 to get on a bus that 300 bus loads where would you find them, park them and control who gets on which bus.

Consider expanding the event to Thursday night, Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Note: great idea in theory lots of work will you find somebody willing to take on this load. There was a public request last year for help to take over the work load that Marion Vanoni as handled for year not a lot of people stepped forward.

Add entertainment by inviting big name acts for Thursday night, Friday night Saturday night before the fireworks, and Sunday afternoon. Many of these entertainers may already be at the South Country Fair, which is the same weekend, and may be able to perform in a sponsored tent located a reasonable distance from residential areas with bussing back and forth from the designated parking. Note: who will put all the money up front to sponsor these events especially the first year, if you want big name acts you will pay big money guaranteed money. Even retro groups like Nazareth, April Wine command $12-15,000 up front money. Do we want to risk taxpayers money on the success of these types of ventures.

Attract sponsorships including approaching Cowboys in Calgary to sponsor and manage the tent, as well as Bacardi Rum for donations of liquor, consistent with the Rum Runner theme. Identify other sponsors in addition to these examples. Note: I was involved with a beer garden once on this weekend if you are going to maintain this weekend as a family event I would like to stay away from this kind of event. In addition, easy to confirm with the RCMP the number of arrests without Beer Gardens as been way down.

Enhance promotion through an integrated campaign building on web site, billboards, radio and social media. Note: Does this event need any more promotion I think anybody within a 300 km radius knows about the event. Also advertising is very expensive who will front those dollars in the first year.

This is going to be a very tough issue to deal with groups that have had control of different aspects are not going to relinquish them freely. There are certain parts of this weekend that are actually owned by groups, will we see a budget item this year to purchase naming rights to Thunder in the Valley. Some people want to grow the event some people want it to go away. Irregardless of what any of us think Mayor and Council seem determined to change this weekend.