Thursday, January 26, 2012

Random Thoughts from the Crowsnest Pass

Outstanding taxes: Remember all that discussion about the $1,044,000 that was outstanding in taxes back in early November. The stress that it was putting on the municipal cash flow. Forcing council to up the tax penalty from 21% to 52%, which would solve the problem by encouraging people to catch up fast.

Remember my comments on this issue check them out at:

Council was informed at the G+P meeting on Jan 24 that surprisingly only 17% of those back taxes have been paid. (Check the numbers from any other year I would expect the 17% is very typical). There is still $870,000 outstanding and even more surprisingly 67% of that total is owed by Non-residential taxpayers.

Good News story, Economic update: This is what is so great about the Internet it is a great tool to communicate. On Councilor Gallant’s blog, he posts some very interesting information regarding all the exciting “new” businesses that have opened in the Pass since the beginning of his term.
Check it out for yourself at:
Road Closure last week: Felt badly for anybody that was stranded in the Pass, I expected a much larger problem with our largest hotel shut down for the winter (50 rooms not available). Amazingly two things happened many people heading this way knew about the road conditions so did not come. Which was evident by the fact that there were still hotel rooms available at 8pm that night and as you can read in the Promoter’s editorial, today people pulled together and looked after those that needed assistance.

I thought Sparwood would have been much worse with the hundreds of miners trapped over there, but they did what the Pass and most communities do in these types of situations they pulled together. despite having much larger numbers of people trapped than we did, only 21 people had to sleep on a cot at the recreation centre.

Thunder in the Valley: This is Councilor Saindon’s project he stated this week that the committee would be meeting in council chambers on the 30th, with the RCMP. He also reported that the committee as now had three meeting and is moving forward; anybody that is interested is welcome to attend the meeting. In conjunction with that, Mayor Decoux started reading a letter from the Blairmore Fireworks committee requesting a meeting with council at the Blairmore Fire Hall, Mayor Decoux stated that if they wished to meet with council they could come as a delegation in front of council.
Sad to read that unless some new volunteers step forward there will not be a show and shine this year, I know many people including myself that really enjoyed that.

Stupid story of the week: I was confronted this morning by an older fellow who was really anger because somebody had “alleged” that previous council had spent $1 million moving the tenants from the Crowsnest Centre to the MDM. I asked him three things; one do you or anybody else have any kind of evidence to substantiate that number. Two was the source of this information the same one that “alleged” that we would lose our Food Bank and Education Consortium. Three this council is now entering its second budget process, it will have its second opportunity to put the funding in place if the centre is truly such a high priority for this community.

Cost of consultants: Sounds like we the taxpayers are going to receive this information on Councilor Gallant’s blog today in a response to a question about the cost of consultants he replies with the following:

“I do not know offhand how much we spent on consultants. We need to hire professionals for specific projects from time to time and I suspect it’s no higher than any other year. I believe we paid approximately $5,000 to have the Task Force document written but I could be wrong since I do not have the information here. There was also a small gift given to the members of the task force of approximately $200 each, and they had travel expenses covered by the municipality. All of this information will be available in March when we receive our audited financial statements. If you want it earlier, please contact Finance at the municipal office.

Stream lining of the municipal office: I hear through the grapevine that the new Director of Public Works, Engineering and planning will be commencing his duties shortly.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Questions are being asked in the Crowsnest Pass.

Often I have people ask me questions about the political situation in the Crowsnest Pass. So I will take the time to address the most common questions being asked over the last couple of months.

What is your opinion of this new schedule for council meetings?

Since Mayor Decoux and his group of councilors took over there as been 55 meeting of council (Including Council, G+P, Special meeting, Organizational etc up to December 6th 2011)
The average duration of those meeting has been 2 hours and 28 minutes of which 58 minutes on average have been in camera. That means the average resident has had the opportunity to see their council at work making the decisions that impact every one of us for a grand total of six hours a month.
Now I know that most people don't go to council meeting, lets face it the majority of people don't vote.
Why not lessen the number of elections?

But that's not the point, the public must have the opportunity if they so choose to see their council at work, in a community that has a lot of people that work 12 hour shifts and out of town the opportunity must be provided.  
Previous council met every Tuesday (as recommended by the Cuff report) this gave every person four opportunities a month to drop by the municipal office and see their council at work if they wished.

During December, January and now February council has been testing a schedule where they meet on only two days a month one day for just a council meeting. A second day for a G+P meeting in the afternoon and then a council meeting at night. Depending on shift schedules a person may never have the opportunity to attend a meeting.

Is their a lot of debate at the council meeting?

I don't think so, I keep telling people to come to a meeting and check it out for themselves. Some more interesting numbers,  most of us know that you can't make motions In Camera at the average meeting there are 14 motions made, council is only in the public realm for 90 minutes a meeting that means on average a motion is being made every six minutes. Would anybody consider there to be a lot of debate?

Do you feel the strategic plan as been successful?

I respond with what do you think? outside of the Bellevue Library closing, name me one other change. Believe it or not I still get people saying well they consolidated the Blairmore/Coleman shop.

How much are we spending on consultants?

That comes up again and again I am going to request those numbers soon from the municipality, will I be provided them who knows.

Are my taxes going up this year?

My answer is I believe so, but I always caution don't just watch your taxes. Follow franchise fees, user fees, etc. 

Do you think the back tax rate increase had a significant effect on the amount of outstanding back taxes?

Financial statements will be out near the end of April I will compare this years numbers with last.

Just some things to think about and hopefully create some debate

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Happy New Year, Looking ahead to 2012 in the Crowsnest Pass

Well the turkey was gobbled down and the fireworks were set off now its time to see what 2012 will bring for us the good residents of the Crowsnest Pass. Weather you live in Crowsnest Pass East or Crowsnest PassWest I am sure one or more of the following will be of interest to every one of you.

Strategic plan: The fanfare will continue there will be lots of talk, more studies, great plans, procedures and policies will continue to be created, reviewed and rewritten. Tangible changes that actually affect the lives of the residents in positive timely ways we will see.

2011 census: First results are expected to be out in February last census our community saw the largest decline in population in the province (percentage wise 8% +) and we became the oldest average aged community. Will all the hiring at the mines over the last couple of years change that?

2012 Cupe collective bargaining, there will ultimately be an agreement between the two parties. How will the process play out, some people ran for office based on finding the “efficiencies” this is their opportunity. Efficiencies in collective bargaining usually involve somebody giving something up. Will that happen? John Irwin used to always brag about the last time CUPE walked out, it did not snow for the next two months. We have had an awful pleasant winter so far.

Municipal Financial Audit: It is like a report card for Council and Administration usually comes in around April, I anticipate based on the numbers so far that the municipality will show a slight surplus for last year. Watch the revenue side of the audit it will probably be $2-300,000 higher than anticipated a great way to make one’s self look good.

It will also be very interesting to see what the outstanding taxes are in the audit at the end of the year after everybody had the fear of 51% penalties waved in their face for the last two months.

Three-year budget: Council is working on having a budget in place for the end of March. Areas I and I am sure many other taxpayers will be watching. Tax increases (lets not forget some councilors ran on the position of no tax increases), plus lets watch for the old fashioned tax increases that we don’t call tax increases; franchise fees, user fees, new revenue sources, (water meters, etc). Will council continue down the path of increasing the number of staff, while not replenishing the municipal reserves in addition to increasing the municipal debt load 2012 will tell?

Crowsnest Centre property plan: I’m sure in the not to distant future there will be presented to council a consultant’s report that will surprisingly state the centre sits on a prime commercial site that’s serviced, accessible to highway 3 and has 12000 vehicles a day traveling along it. The issue that will raise its head, is nobody will touch that site without the old hospital being removed, unless the municipality gives the site away. Will the taxpayers be willing to take on a million dollars worth of debt to remove it?

River Run properties: Somewhere in 2012 I suspect some of the investors will approach the municipality looking for a break on the back taxes in return for some minimal development on that property.

New recreation facility: Many people are talking about this; there is even a group that has recently been formed to work on this project. My argument was that this community did not have the tax base or the willingness of all those that live here on a fixed income to subsidize an indoor swimming pool. In fact I listen to a councilor at the last public forum talk about how the taxpayers have had to bear the “burden” of subsidizing a ski hill for years, quite a revelation when you consider that Pincher spends yearly 6-7 times what we spend on our ski hill to maintain there indoor pool. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that this group does not only have the intention to fundraise to build a facility but also to raise additional funds to operate it. I wish them nothing but the best an Indoor facility with no addition costs to the taxpayers I would support that in a heartbeat.

Note: For those that wish to help with this worthy cause I would suggest that check out the following: Crowsnest Can Do Cultural and Recreation Society page on
Facebook, or email

Bigger government: Remember how the municipality was stream lined from four departments to three. Remember at the beginning of this council’s term there were five management employees. Soon there will be seven. Will that number get even larger when and if the municipality stops using consultants?

Consultants: Wouldn’t we the taxpayers like to know what its cost us so far? The interim CAO, putting together our community peace officer program, the Crowsnest Centre, the new Fire Chief. Will we find out in 2012 will there be an end to this costly process? Remember the moment a consultant says everything here looks good our job is done the paycheck stops.

The democratic process: The last council was slammed consistently for 4-3 votes (which if anybody was counting happened in less than 5% of all votes). Up to now watching this council over the last fifteen months it has appears quiet the opposite, meeting with very little debate and very often decisions made by unanimous vote. Over the last month, I have seen Councilor Sage be the exception to this rule a few times. It will be interesting to see what this year brings; there is a name for governments that operate with no opposition.

Optimistic: How could you not be, we live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, there are lot’s of good people that live here. I hope this community stays affordable for all those that are, or soon to be seniors. I hope this community is careful to remember that its great to have dreams and aspirations but somebody must pay for them. We must also live within our means not just now but down the road.

Lastly “Consolidation of Blairmore/Coleman shop” will this really happen or was that press release last July just a poor attempt to show us that “change” was happening? On the other hand, is this a great example of how change will be instituted in this community?

2012 will indeed be an interesting year.

Feel free to leave your comments regarding these issues or any others.