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Council wants ‘plain language’ plebiscite question

Red Deer city council wants a ward system plebiscite question written in plain language on the Oct. 21 civic ballot.

On Monday council sent the first draft of the question back to administration for a re-write.

Some councillors felt the proposed question and qualifier after the “Yes” or “No” answer was not clear enough and was too wordy.

Councillors said the question should be simple and easily understood. The first draft reads “Are you in favour of council passing a bylaw dividing the City of Red Deer into wards for municipal election purposes?”

Included in the plebiscite are two choices for voters –– “Yes (a yes votes means you support changing to an electoral system where the City is divided into electoral divisions (called wards) and you must be a resident in the ward to vote for a councillor in the ward and the councillors are elected for each ward, unless otherwise provided for the bylaw)” or “No (a no vote means that you support maintaining the current at-large electoral system where you may vote for councillors for the entire City regardless of where you reside in the City).”

A redrafted question will come back to council after the city’s legal team combs through the new wording in two weeks.

Legislative Services manager Frieda McDougall said the question needs to be posed in such away that they can clearly tell either it is for against or against or in the affirmative or the negative.

McDougall said the plebiscite is not binding but is a method for council to solicit public input. She said it would be up to the next council to endorse the outcome.

In the fall, the city will launch a communications campaign using a third-party facilitator on what the question means on the ballot and differences between a ward representation and an at-large system.

McDougall fielded some questions surrounding wards including what a proposed ward system would look like in Red Deer and whether a candidate for council had to reside in the ward he or she served.

“A candidate can actually select the ward in which they would want to run if there was a ward,” said McDougall.

“And they would then run in that ward for election whether they lived there or not.”

McDougall said following the outcome of the plebiscite, the council and city administration would draft the proposed ward boundaries, if that is the outcome. This may include a ward system for the entire city or a hybrid system of a mix of wards an at-large system.

“When people come into a voting system to vote, that is not the time for us to educating,” said McDougall. “In fact if any of our election staff were doing that I would be highly concerned ... This is going to be the pre-work that is being done. We cannot tell them what ward they would be in or what that would look like until (council has) received the feedback from the electorate and (council) has made a decision.”

Council agreed to use up to $35,000 on communications, adding the question to the ballot and providing information about ward systems and at-large systems and cleared up the language in the Dialogue Charter to reflect the relationship between dialogue and representation in the charter.

In other council news:

l Red Deer city council gave first reading to its Tax Rate bylaw. The municipal tax increase is consistent at 4.57 per cent for residential, multi-family and non-residential but when the Alberta Education and Piper Creek Foundation are requisitions factored in there are different tax increases for each property type.

Namely there’s a 2.24 per cent increase on residential property, 1.48 per cent on multi-family property and 6.67 per cent for non-residential property in 2013.

A residential homeowner would pay $57 on average more annually to $2,607 (from $2,550 in 2012) on their tax bill on a $300,000 assessed home. A multi-family property owner would pay $39 on average more annually and a business owner would pay roughly $300 more on the tax bill on property valued at $300,000.

“This tax percentage isn’t over and above what was adopted in January,” said Coun. Tara Veer. “Sometimes when we pass the tax bylaw there is some confusion because people feel this is above the number they heard in January. It is a balancing act and people generally do not like to hear tax increases but we tried to be as fair and transparent as possible in terms of providing the number for the public.”

Coun. Chris Stephan opposed first reading because he said it is not fair that commercial is paying twice as much as multi-family and residential homeowners.

“I don’t care what other communities do,” said Stephan. “In one year isolation, 4.57 per cent across the board is fine. The province does what it does. Right now we’re not operating in a fair system. It doesn’t represent want should be fair across the board.”

The Tax Rate bylaw will come back to council for consideration of second and third reading on May 6.

l Coronation Park will soon be home to the city’s first Stone Circle monument. Red Deer city council gave the go ahead to the site on Monday. The Red Deer Native Friendship Society, Urban Aboriginal Voices Society and the Red Deer Centennial Committee pitched the idea for a centennial project. A tentative date for completion would be late June in time to have the site dedicated during National Aboriginal Week.



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