Thursday, February 23, 2012

Governance and Priorities Meeting Feb 21/2012

Two very interesting delegations at this meeting

First, was a Crowsnest Pass School Presentation led by Wes Wescott Principal of the High School, mostly focused around what is happening in the school? How they are approaching various groups to get the public more involved in where the school system is going. Some disturbing news they discussed the topic of school enrolment even though the mines have been hiring new employees by the hundreds, School enrolment is still dropping, in fact he stated that they anticipate enrolment to continue to drop 3% a year on average between now and 2020.

Second delegation was the Pass Powderkeg, truly one of the unique things about our municipality where else do you have a very affordable, family orientated facility like this in the middle of your community. The group gave a review of their master plan, which has some very ambitious plans for the future of the ski hill; they talked about a chairlift, Tube Park etc. Big dollars involved with this facility the question is always going to be how many taxpayer dollars you put in.

Then came the issue of the Standard Operating Procedures Manual for the Crowsnest Pass Municipal Enforcement Services.
Last item on the agenda sounded about has exciting as watching paint dry. However, I thought what the hell lets hear what they have to say. Especially thinking back to the fall when the Community Peace Officer issue was raised at the Chamber of Commerce Luncheon and how it was not going to cost the taxpayers a penny.
Interim Manager Enforcement Services, Transitional Solutions Inc. Donna Tona started the presentation regarding the manual, I got the feeling very quickly that this is quiet an in depth manual by the time she was finished I recognized it is going to take some highly qualified people to fill these positions.
Councilor Saindon asked when these positions will be filled (June 1) he wanted to know if that was realistic, she said yes lots of young guys coming out of school would love to come here (Strange nowhere in the discussion was there a mention of our present bylaw officer taking one of these positions, maybe we are going to have two peace officers and a bylaw officer, further stream lining of the municipality)
Then the question of cost was asked (did not think there would be any but maybe there’s a plan) council was told that it would be in the range of $35-40,000 per peace officer just to set them up with a truck and equipment, then the question was asked how long would it take for these officers to recoup their start up cost? By February 2013.
So then the discussion began around getting authority from the Solicitor General office to patrol Highway 3 through the municipality, Ms Tona explained that you could not do that until you have the peace officers in place. (Mayor Decoux remarked that is a bit of a catch 22) which she agreed too but stated do not fear if we do not get Highway 3, there are ample opportunities to generate revenue in the rest of the municipality.
This in turn brought up the issue of the unsightly premises bylaw, to which Ms Tona responded that there are 270-280 location in the Pass that are currently in violation of that bylaw. (Wow, I knew we had some horrible looking places in the Pass but 10% of what is here!).
Followed by the issue of OHV’s and how will the officers cash in on that revenue opportunity, Ms Tona advised it would not be difficult to place a peace officer at the various staging areas.
Councilor Gail asked the question wouldn’t all this enforcement push people away from the Pass to which Ms Tona stated there could be a strong reaction for 6-8 months, but people will adjust.

Several things that were not addressed during this meeting:
·   I have never heard of one community where Community Peace Officers recover 100% of there costs. (I could be wrong but if I am why don’t the RCMP follow the same model and make the burden of policing on the taxpayers zero)
·      Are these community Peace Officers going to be CUPE members, if there not I suspect that will be an issue in the bargaining process that just began two weeks ago.
·      If they are going to be CUPE members then there is no classification for Community Peace Officers in the collective agreement that will have to be negotiated.
·        Negotiations I expect could take a while yet. (unless Council’s has given up the drive to find efficiencies, or CUPE in an highly unlikely scenario just decides to roll over)  
·       June 1 is only 14 weeks away.
This machine we call the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass is just getting larger and larger, how long will it be sustainable

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Crowsnest Museum

Sad day in the Crowsnest Pass today, just read the Crowsnest Promoter headline article the Crowsnest Museum is closing due to financial difficulties.
This is a reflection of the difficulties faced in the Crowsnest Pass not just by this group but many  groups.
I had the pleasure of sitting on the board that ran the Museum for three years, its a great place and it is indeed an important piece of the history and culture of this community.
If memory serves me right it cost about a $120,000 a year to run the museum with roughly 20% of its revenue coming from the Municipality, 40% from various grants, 10% from admissions and sales of goods then the rest from fund raising. The problem in my mind, volunteer fatigue the group of volunteers in this community is getting smaller and older. The volunteers that came  back year after year worked hard made  some money here and there and gave so much of their time deserve a great thanks from this community.
When I hear of the group that is attempting to raise money to build and operate a Indoor facility I wish them well the museum required basically $50,000 a year of fundraising to keep it alive. Its tough people, will come together when you have a major disaster, they will step up to the plate for a few years when something is new and everybody is full of enthusiasm. I strongly believe the only way in the long run you will keep any facility like the museum going is if you can find a benefactor (Big company) or get a greater willingness of the taxpayers to foot a larger portion of the bill. (If you really want it be willing to pay for it)  
I personally will always congratulate and applaud volunteers because without them communities would not have a lot of the stuff we have. I tip my hat to anybody that ever did anything to support the Crowsnest Museum, it is indeed a sad day. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Budget-Taxes No point in raising concerns after the fact

Municipal Council of the Crownest Pass is now in the process of debating budget. Some people feel that’s old news, it happens this time every year. No big deal if the taxpayers are not happy the politicians will feel the wraith of their displeasure and they will do better next year. Let’s not forget next year is an election year so we may get hit this year but election years are always better. 
This year is different, a three year budget is going to be put in place, if taxpayers are concerned they need to talk to their politicians soon. You may find yourself living with something that is not very appetizing for the next three years.
Is there hope to keep the never ending cost of living here in line? you bet below is a direct quote from Councilor Gallant election campaign now that we have waited a year or more into their term we need to reflect on those words. They certainly have  managed to put people into place and obviously there are more on the way. 

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."

We need to hope that not just Councilor Gallant is fighting to keep our taxes down if not “reduced” remember Councilor Saindon stated the following during the election campaign words that also need to be reflected on and hopefully will provide the desire to slow the growth of how much we pay .

Our Public Works Department needs to be consolidated, we have far too many locations and buildings to operate and maintain. Operational savings are waiting to be taken advantage and we need management to review all departments. In times of recession most businesses look at reducing operating costs through increased efficiency and automation. We need to look at our operation and find ways to reduce costs and increase productivity. 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 press release as been on the Municipal web site since last July regarding the  “Consolidation of the Coleman and Blairmore shop” we all know that Councilor Saindon is on the management bargaining committee meeting with CUPE right now. We all look forward to the resulting savings from that process, the increased efficiencies that are just waiting to be taken “advantage” of. All of these things need to be achieved if we do not wish to see the never ending cycle of increases in our cost of living here do not forget it’s not just taxes it’s Franchise fees, Utility bills, user fees, (do not be shocked to see the water meter issue rise again).
Contact your councilors not just the ones above remind them of their election promises, remind them of your concerns its not just a regular budget, we will be living with this one for the next three years.
Let’s not forget last year most people were expecting a zero percent increase.

Councilor Saindon stated the following on his blog Feb 4th

“We need good people in the right places and over time we will make those decisions and pay dividends for our community. Take the 0 % tax increase as a sign of good things to come.

And the following on March 21st  after they had realized that they had not factored in the Education and Seniors Requisition.

“Can we still have no tax tax increase this year? My answer to that is yes and your administration and council will work to that end. Certain budget adjustments and programs may feel a further pinch ,but I am confident we can find the extra needed to offset the school board and senior’s housing increases for this year.”

That did not happen that  zero percent did indeed turn into 2% thanks to that unaccounted for  Provincial Education requisition. Fast forward to this year the province as already made it clear that they are going to take an additional 10% on the Education Requisition.
Those increased efficiencies those unnecessary costs need to be found now soon. Keep in mind that one a three year budget is in place even if you have a different council  next election it could well be both difficult and expensive to change course.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Provincial Education taxes

Interesting article the province is going to collect an extra $120 million from education taxes this year.
This means the pressure on council is going to be even greater than last year to sharpen their pencils and keep the municipal portion of the tax bill under control.
Good luck

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Property Tax Penalties open your eyes

I have been reading on Councilor Saindon's blog there appears to be a commenter that has a miss understanding of the property tax penalty bylaw. Even though I feel very bad for him and his family I get the impression that he feels that the River Run property is not going to get hit with the tax penalties. I have also had a few conversations with people around tax also that are confused.
I would suggest that you go to the Municipal Web site (link available on the right hand side), click on the section marked bylaws and go to Bylaw #836,2011 "Property Tax Penalties". Then read this bylaw very carefully unless I am way out to lunch it clearly states that on the first business day after July 1st you are going to get hit with a 20% penalty, it also goes on to say that there will be a further penalty of 2% on the first business day of each month.
Remember at the tax hall meeting how the Mayor talked about the serious cash flow problems being created by people not paying there taxes. Well despite the much ado about charging one of the highest municipal tax penalties in the province and how it was going to encourage a large cash injection into the municipal coffers. The municipality collected a whooping 17% of its outstanding back taxes prior to the end of the year. So those other 83% I hope you take the time to read the bylaw because its going to cost you "a lot".

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Alberta is booming, 2011 Census results released today.

Well almost all of Alberta is booming with a population growth of 10.8% or in real number’s almost 355,000 new residents came to our province during the last five years.

The province is growing in leaps and bounds with the exception of this little corner down here in the South West the Crowsnest Pass actually was one of only four municipalities in Alberta with a population of greater than 5000 that actually shrank, yes our population dropped by 184 people (3.2%).

How will this affect the community?

Right in the pocket book most provincial or federal grants are based on population. My last year on council we were getting roughly $1400 in grants for each resident a drop of 184 based on that same amount would impact the community to the tune of $258,000 per year.

The other problem with this information is that you are stuck with these numbers for five years until the next census.

How did we compare to our neighbours?

Pincher Creek grew by 60 residents or 1.7%

Fort Macleod grew by 45 residents or 1.5%

Cowley grew by 17 residents or 7.8%

Sparwood grew by 49 residents or 1.4%

Elkford grew by 60 residents or 2.4%

Fernie grew by 231 residents or 5.5%

We must keep in mind that this census was conducted last spring so these numbers are very current and would reflect a lot of the hiring that the mines have done over the last two years.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Crowsnest Pass, Here we grow again!

Just one week prior to the municipality sitting down with CUPE to begin the bargaining process for the last collective agreement that expired at the end of 2011. The municipality continues to throw money around like there is no end to what the taxpayers are willing to pay.
Yesterday our new Public Works/Planning/Engineering director began his duties with the municipality, in addition to that our new Building Inspector began his employment as well.
The strategic plan is working, I just did not realize that we were going to stimulate the local ecconomy by turning the municipality into the latgest non minning employer in the valley.

Wages for these two positions? minimum $200,000 a year. Plus clerical support, plus pickups, offices, computers, cell phones, training, certifications, etc etc. It's going to be embarrassing for somebody to tell the employees union next week that they have no money.

Our building inspections were being performed by a company from Lethbridge that was coming to the Pass once a week occasionaly twice when really busy. Maybe council is anticipating a construction boom in the next couple of years!
Looking at the numbers new development for 2008 was $8,129,570 for 2009 $9,560,945 for 2010 $9,438,361 and for 2011 $6,230,000 a whooping drop of 35%.