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.