Mayor delivers buoyant ‘state of the city’ address

On Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama delivered an impassioned state of the union address on Capitol Hill.

On Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama delivered an impassioned state of the union address on Capitol Hill.

Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling followed up with a buoyant “state of the city” address the following evening at the Black Knight Inn.

“If you’re going to be in the best place, you’re going to be in Canada,” Flewwelling told attendees at a dinner meeting of the Central Alberta branch of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association. “If you’re going to be in the best place in Canada, you’re going to be in Alberta. And if you’re going to be in the best place in Alberta, you’re likely going to be on the corridor — and Red Deer would be one of those very top places.”

He described how a robust energy sector was boosting the local economy. The construction, agricultural and retail industries were also helping, he added.

In the case of the retail sector, the city has benefited from being the trading centre for Central Alberta, said Flewwelling.

“That’s why the retail industry is much higher than you would ever expect,” he said, pointing to the existence of two Walmart stores in Red Deer, high-volume dealerships like Gasoline Alley Harley-Davidson and Glover International Trucks, and the success of big-market stores like Winners Homesense, Chapters and Acura of Red Deer.

Flewwelling acknowledged that the recent economic downturn made city council’s job tougher, with its 2012 capital budget just $95 million, as compared with $420 million in 2008.

“We’ve taken some big capital projects and said, ‘We’re not doing those for the next 10 years.”

He described how the city has had to cope with a decline in investment income, revenues from land sales and off-site levies, and assessment growth. Meanwhile, it’s had to service newly annexed lands, and tackle major water and wastewater projects.

Among the initiatives of the current council has been the creation of six strategic planning themes, or charters, for the 2012-14 period, said Flewwelling. These focus on the economy, community design, movement, identity, safety and dialogue.

Also delivering positive news at the Canadian Home Builders’ Association gathering was Regine Durand, a market analyst with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.

“We expect housing construction to increase this year due to a higher supply of lots, low inventories, slower price growth and employment growth,” said Durand.

Specifically, CMHC anticipates that nearly 600 new lots will come onto the market this year. Meanwhile, the inventory of new and unsold houses has dropped 45 per cent, she said.

CMHC is also forecasting a modest increase in sales and prices on the local resale market, said Durand, with the strengthening economy, continued low interest rates and a narrowing gap between the cost of owning versus renting a home all factors at play.

Durand said CMHC anticipates a tighter rental market, with job gains and an influx of people contributing to lower vacancy rates and higher rents.