Q. What were Red Deer’s biggest challenges in 2017?
Notably in 2017 was the windstorm. A few minutes of very strong winds had significant impacts in terms of operations and cleanup efforts. In the initial stages of the windstorm, 30 per cent of our citizens were without power up to, and including, four days for some citizens. We lost thousands and thousands of trees in our urban canopy. Cleanup efforts occurred throughout the community, and we continued to clean up well into the fall.
But more thematically, the story of 2017, and the challenges of 2017, was the continued recessed economy that we were navigating through and the need to respond to that.
I think in terms of responding to the opioid crisis, much of our community conversation has been focused around the harm reduction pillar. But certainly the plan that has to be implemented by the provincial government, by the municipality and our community partners, identifies prevention, harms reduction, treatment and the need for treatment, as well as community safety.
In terms of the social challenges around crime and public safety, the RCMP have had significant progress over the last couple of years in terms of reducing organized crime and some of the major impacts of organized crime. The area that presented the most significant challenge in 2017 is with respect to property crime. We have elevated our crime prevention efforts. We have established Project Pinpoint, which is an operational focus on prolific offenders and recognizing that there is a small population doing the majority of the crime, and we’ve seen the results of Pinpoint in recent months.
Q. How is the city preparing to deal with the legalization of marijuana?
We certainly anticipate that it will affect inspections and licensing. It will affect planning. It will affect the RCMP as well. But council’s current positions that we’ve submitted before the provincial government is that we’ve highlighted the challenges of July 2018 (implementation). If they don’t extend that sunset for implementation then we will come into compliance within that time frame. I think that the most significant municipal regulatory area, that will likely be subject to a public hearing at some point, would be depending on how we incorporate retailing into our land use bylaws.
Because Central Albertans live and work and recreate within municipalities within our region in a very consistent way, I think it will be important that our regional partners such as Red Deer County, Town of Sylvan Lake, the City of Lacombe, Town of Blackfalds and Innisfail, that we have some consistency in terms of our local regulatory framework, so that there is some consistency is terms of our approach so we that one municipality isn’t in contravention of another municipality.
Q. How close do you think the city is to seeing the expansion of Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, and its programs?
To date (the province) has said they currently do not have budget allocation, and I think that we will continue to elevate our community voice until we see it. I think it’s important to note we really had about five years of very formal advocacy efforts on the Red Deer Justice Centre before we saw it come to fruition, and I would expect that we would continue to advocate as a community until we see the results that we are seeking.
While it’s not an area of direct municipal jurisdiction obviously, it’s of concern to the city which is why we’ve taken up the advocacy efforts.
The other area that it affects the city is in terms of our emergency response times and ambulances. If there is not bed capacity at the hospital, and ambulance teams are required to stay at the hospital until their patient is transferred to a bed, that has an impact in terms of the services that Emergency Services is able to provide because that’s an ambulance that is not available to be dispatched. It absolutely is a direct area of municipal interest because ambulance is a service that we’re directly responsible for.
Q. Public safety and crime are top concerns in Red Deer so what more can the city do to address these ongoing problems?
In the annual policing plan, we identified reducing organized crime as a previous initiative, and we’ve started seeing results on that front. In this year’s annual policing plan, we’ve identified, among other things, reducing property crime. With the Pinpoint Project, and service standard from the police, and the shift from reactive policing to proactive policing, we’re starting to realize the effects of that.
Having said that, I think there are a couple areas that we’ve identified that we need to resolve for our community. One being the quality of service we’re able to offer through policing on non-emergency calls. Our service standard is very high on an emergency basis. But we’ve also identified the need to improve our service in non-emergency calls to police in terms of service after a criminal event has occurred.
The 2018 budget, I anticipate we will see substantial deliberation from council. There is a recommendation of four additional officers and two municipal employees, and the recommendation is to focus that in terms of proactive downtown safety. That would actually build capacity in existing complement of officers elsewhere in the city as well.
We know that our existing courthouse is at capacity, and it will be approximately four years until the full completion of the new Red Deer Justice Centre. So the (request) before the provincial government (by) the city is additional crown prosecutors in the interim in order to meet the added charges that our local RCMP are laying.
Q. What city projects or programs will make the biggest impact on residents in 2018?
In 2018, our community will realize the opening of many of the infrastructure projects that came to Red Deer as a result of the Canada Winter Games. Red Deer received substantial provincial and federal government infrastructure dollars that we otherwise would not have been eligible for. Those projects have been under construction, and we will see their opening in 2018 which will open new and modernized recreation and opportunities and other community amenities for citizens.
The other area that I think will have the most impact in terms of Red Deerians’ day-to-day will be with respect to the modernization of waste collection. We’re moving towards the green cart program, and eventually the blue and black cart program.
We really have reached a watershed moment as a community where we still remain a small city, but we’ve become a bigger city. With that has come a modernization of local government and of the amenities and quality of life. We’re able to offer our citizens not only, as a growing city, but as a regional hub and as a city on the QE2 corridor that’s becoming more of a destination city.”
Q. What is the city doing to stand out from other municipalities to attract business, industry and residents?
We are looking to build Red Deer’s absolute and competitive advantage on a number of fronts. First and foremost to attract population, and to retain population, we need to build quality of life in Red Deer.
In 2016, we had lost population for one of the first times in years … and that was a direct consequence of the provincial economy. But in 2017, we started to see a return of population, and we once again surpassed the 100,000 threshold according to the federal census. That does give some queue, and some cautious optimism, into economic recovery when we start to see return of population.
Capstone at Riverlands was one of our most significant achievements in 2017. Riverlands was a vision that’s been 20 years in the making. When we did the marketing launch for Capstone this summer, it was a recognition that we had been building towards a revitalization of our downtown. It really it is a once in a lifetime opportunity for a city to be able to develop prime riverfront lands in the manner that we are pursuing. I think that will significantly shift the dynamic, not only for downtown, but for all of our community.
As we approach the budget, I think that is a lever that we have that has influence on our local economy. We have remained steadfastly committed to having favourable mill rates, a favourable split between residential and non-residential mill rates, recognizing that we are competing with other communities in terms of business attraction and retention.
Note: This has been edited for brevity and space. See full version online at www.reddeeradvocate.com.