Red Deer had its share of highs and lows in 2016.
The city hosted a phenomenal MasterCard Memorial Cup, but also made headlines for having the highest crime rate among Alberta’s four major cities.
Construction of the province’s $80-million QEII interchange project got underway to improve traffic safety on the city’s south side.
Meanwhile, Red Deer’s population shrunk by one per cent after decades of growth.
Mayor Tara Veer said Red Deer definitely had its successes and challenges in 2016, all while struggling with the flailing economy.
“The overarching story of 2016 was certainly navigating through a provincial economy like none in recent history,” said Veer during a year-end interview with the Advocate.
She said obstacles will continue in 2017. The city saw a drop in revenue and council will debate a proposed 2.5 per cent property tax increase that includes a 0.22 per cent increase to deal with the province’s new carbon levy.
“(The carbon levy) has a real financial impact on our local businesses and residents. Now our work will be cut out for us to ensure that money comes back to Red Deer in the way of environmental capital grants.”
Hosting the MasterCard Memorial Cup in May was among Veer’s favourite memories of 2016.
“The Memorial Cup provided an economic spinoff for Red Deer of approximately $14 million in a time when we needed it the most. It was an incredible source of community pride. But it also gave us the opportunity to welcome 10,000 national and international guests to Red Deer who otherwise would not have come to Red Deer.”
According to the Canadian Hockey League, Red Deer set the bar for future Memorial Cups and bodes well for a great 2019 Canada Winter Games, she said.
“As much as it is about preparing for the Canada Winter Games, it’s also about positioning us for what’s next after the Canada Winter Games. One event builds upon the next event.”
As many as 20,000 Canadians will visit the city during the games, and Red Deer is already working on its “identity challenge,” she said.
“When there is a national news story about where Red Deer was positioned in terms of our crime rates, that obviously is concerning to us not only in perspective to the level of our crime rates, because citizens have identified crime and public safety is their number one priority.”
Veer said police made an impact on organized crime and now the focus needs to be on reducing property crime, which has become a source of significant public frustration.