LACOMBE — Finding ways to attract new businesses to Lacombe was a recurring theme at an election forum that drew about 400 people on Wednesday night.
The first question put to the two mayoral and nine council candidates asked them to outline their specific strategies for luring new businesses to the community.
Incumbent Mayor Steve Christie said the city is already doing a lot and meeting almost daily with developers eyeing Lacombe.
But the community’s topography makes development expensive and existing private landowners have been slow to develop.
“It’s all about relationships,” said Christie, who served two terms as councillor before getting elected mayor in 2010. “It’s all about getting landowners to develop as well.”
Grant Creasey, a one-term councillor who is challenging Christie for the mayoralty, pointed to an abandoned affordable housing project with Canadian University College as one reason for the city’s difficulty in attracting developers.
The city “shunned” new developers and “it’s going to take time to rebuild that trust.”
Council candidates all agreed more must be done to attract new industrial and commercial businesses to take some of the tax burden off residential ratepayers.
Suggestions included working closely with the business community to identify needs, offering tax incentives, stepping up community economic development promotions and streamlining regulations to make it easier to develop.
In response to a question along a similar vein later, Creasey said attitudes at city hall, where business has not been a strong point, have to change. Too much emphasis has been put on planning and enforcing rules, he suggested.
Christie said the city is already working with the local chamber of commerce to find out what their members believe the city is doing right and wrong. The city has also recently purchased 35 acres to convert into industrial lots to improve the tax base.
Mayoral candidates were also asked two things they would do to improve transparency.
Creasey said he wants to see every vote recorded, so the public knows how each member of council voted on a motion.
“Recorded votes is critical to accountability,” he said.
He also wants to see 15-minute time slots set aside before each council meeting so the public can address council. The current system makes it difficult for residents to get on the agenda to talk to council.
Christie said councillors can ask for a recorded vote at any time.
Council has been extremely transparent and has welcomed the public to attend meetings and council has seen some of its biggest gatherings in recent meetings.
“You can’t say we are not open and transparent,” he said.
Candidates were also asked how they would improve local ambulance service, which was taken over by the province in 2009 and is not under municipal control.
Creasey urged the public to take their concerns to the province because nothing will change unless Alberta Health Services makes it a priority.
Christie said the problem goes beyond Lacombe and the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association has been lobbying the province.
“I think we have to collaborate on a big scale.”
Running for council are: Wayne Armishaw, Peter Bouwsema, Sandy Douglas, Grant Harder, Lisa Joy, Reuben Konnik, Bill McQuesten, Wayne Rempel and Chris Ross.