You can’t sit in a Red Deer County coffee shop for long before the conversation turns to roads.
The three candidates running for mayor of the county can attest that roads, gravel, snow plowing and infrastructure top lists of issues for ratepayers.
“It’s always roads and infrastructure. It’s always one of the issues,” said Sylvan Lake-area candidate and former three-term county councillor Stan Bell.
“Like, why is the grader not here?”
The issue is nothing new for county council.
“It’s not going to go away,” Stan continued.
“We’re going to continue to struggle with this as to how we spend our money in the best and most efficient way to get the best level of service we can with the tax dollars we have budgeted.”
Elnora-area candidate Jim Wood and Debra Hanna of the Benalto area, agree that roads are always a priority with residents.
“We need to look at getting more gravel on them,” said Hanna.
“I’ve been driving on them for the last couple of days and they are really hungry.”
Improving snow plowing has also been a key part of her campaign platform. Hanna wants to see roads plowed quicker.
The existing system requires five to six days to plow county roads.
By that time, some have already drifted in again or more snow has fallen.
Wood is hearing similar concerns.
“As I’m going around, one of the biggest things that I’m hearing is service levels,” said Wood, who has been a councillor for the past two terms.
“I’m talking about the amount of gravel we may be placing on our roads or the frequency of maintaining our roads.
“What I’m hearing, in general, is they are expecting more than we are doing.”
Problems have been compounded this year because it has been so wet.
However, improving service and keeping taxes in check requires a careful balance, he said. Ratepayers are concerned about the amount of taxes they pay now.
If service levels go up, so does the budget unless other measures are taken.
“We know that these two have to balance,” Wood said. The county has to either raise taxes or become more efficient or do less in another area.
Wood said he is also hearing from residents concerned about development pressure. But how it affects people varies considerably with each case, so there are no simple solutions.
Some have told Wood they want the county to be an easier place to do business with. “I hear that quite often,” he said, adding people don’t want to reach a voicemail when they are trying to reach county staff.
Hanna said she has also heard from those who feel the county communicates poorly.
“They find it very difficult to get information from anybody, the staff and council.”
She wants to improve the avenues to gain access to council and allow more ratepayers to get on the agenda.
“At this point in time, access to council has been really tough to get.”
Ratepayers also complain that staff are making all of the development decisions. Hanna wants to put more of those decisions back in the hands of elected representatives.
In those kinds of areas, the mayor can show leadership and open communication lines to get people answers. “I can promise that because that is something I can do myself.”
The other two candidates agree that leadership will be important to voters.
“From a mayor’s perspective, you’re electing somebody to lead,” said Bell. “I don’t believe you’re electing somebody to change from 12 graders to 14 graders.”
Wood also sees a difference in running for councillor and mayor. “I think that quite often people are looking for a different quality than they would for their councillor. Leadership is a key (quality) as far as taking the helm.”
Bell also said he is hearing from residents who are concerned that the county is beginning to focus too much on the centre along the Hwy 2 corridor and is not paying as much attention to needs in the east and west ends.
That boils down to communication, he said. “If people are feeling that they are heard, they seem to gain a level of satisfaction from that.”