Of all the municipal issues that matter to Red Deerians, there are two that are, and likely will continue to be, universally important to everyone, because they affect us all personally: community safety and our economy.
Given how concerned we all are about safety, I have devoted recent columns to outlining actions the city is taking to reduce crime and social disorder in our community.
This month, I’ll highlight some of the initiatives council and the city have underway in our efforts to improve our local economy, and to ensure the financial efficiency of the city’s operations and affordability of municipal services for our community.
Albertans are, of course, highly familiar with the peaks and valleys of our provincial economy, but generally speaking, we have historically been able to weather slower economic times because slow economic cycles were soon followed by a return to recovery and renewed economic prosperity.
We normally would recover from provincial/local recession in approximately a year, two years at the most.
We are, however, now navigating a new economic normal. We are now in year five of what has proven to be a far deeper and more prolonged recession, a fact that necessitates new and significant responses to try to improve the new economic normal.
In an effort to diversify and proactively strengthen our local economy, the following are highlights of some of the strategies council and the city currently have underway or are working on:
* A value for money audit on all building and development processes has been completed and is being implemented to ensure city responsiveness to development applications.
* Establishment of the downtown police unit to increase general police presence and foot patrols to respond to downtown safety concerns.
* Moving the city’s economic development department out of City Hall into downtown at the gateway to Capstone, Railyards and historic downtown (i.e., to more aggressively market lands for investment, etc.).
* Continue to advocate for the full implementation of Red Deer College’s university status. (This is a highly strategic means of keeping and attracting population and ceasing the slow bleed of university-bound students to Edmonton or Calgary).
* This fall, council will be debating options for the city now available to municipalities through Bill 7 to incent development and the cleanup of derelict commercial sites, for example.
* Public infrastructure investment in strategic areas to catalyze private-sector confidence.
* Continued advocacy to other orders of government to secure new market access for Alberta’s energy product to help address Red Deer’s high unemployment rate.
In the new economic normal, it is not enough, however, to stimulate or create favourable local economic conditions alone, so the following are additional efforts council and city administration currently have underway to manage costs, ensure that city operations are financially efficient, and to improve the affordability of living in and doing business in Red Deer:
* A service review of transit is in process.
* A service review of policing is in process.
* Reducing bureaucracy by modernizing and streamlining bylaws.
* An operational review of snow and ice control is underway.
* A value for money audit is underway for recreation, parks and culture services.
* As city staff prepare the 2020 budget, council has asked for an additional $15 million in cost savings, operational efficiencies and adjustments over the next three years.
As always, as budget 2020 is being prepared, council is resolute in our commitment to:
* Maintaining one of the most competitive commercial-to-residential tax ratios in the province.
* No business tax, machinery or equipment tax.
* Preventing tax and utility rate shock by shifting more to multi-year capital and operating budgets.
* Finding innovations, savings and efficiencies across all city operations.
I hope this helps to answer some of the questions you may have.
As always, it is council’s privilege to serve you, and we look forward to seeing you throughout the community.
Mayor Tara Veer