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.