City debt and downtown parking were among the hodgepodge of issues addressed by candidates jostling for the mayor’s job at a forum on Tuesday.
The five hopefuls — William Horn, Cindy Jefferies, Chad Mason, Dennis Trepanier and Tara Veer — were all present and shared their platform before taking questions from a packed auditorium at City Centre Stage.
Explaining the city’s debt of $199 million was the first question from the floor.
Veer, a third-term councillor, said she takes a balanced approach to the city’s debt. She said there’s a trend for Alberta municipalities to go above and beyond the debt limit.
Veer said she was behind putting the move to cap the debt (at 90 per cent) and now part of her mayoral platform is to reduce the debt cap to 75 per cent because it is a conservative and responsible approach.
“It still allows us to fulfill our 10-year capital plan but it doesn’t cripple our population in terms of debt servicing as well as some of … the facilities costs,” said Veer.
Mason said the city incurred the debt to build the water treatment plant. He said the debt limit is absolutely useless.
“The only number that matters when you are considering debt is zero,” said Mason. “That’s the number if you go into debt, you try to get back to that number. In 2015/16 we’re going to hit the debt peak. If you’re going to hit that peak and hit down … the money has to come from somewhere. We have to save a bit. We have to sacrifice a bit.”
Horn said it is all well and good to say what the city can afford. He said the city should ask residents what they can afford.
“I think the city is taking just a little too much out of your pocket,” said Horn. “I think we need to get back to the basics and keep it down to the cost of living index.”
Jefferies, also a third-term councillor, said the city borrows for capital not for operating expenses. She said when the city borrows, the city always has a plan to pay it back. She said currently 68 per cent of the debt is related to self-supported activities like utilities.
“Right now our actual debt as of December 2012 is 46 per cent of the debt limit as set by the province,” said Jefferies. “Our city practice has always been to remain well under the provincially prescribed debt limit and now we have put it into policy.”
Trepanier said debt is a serious issue and something that cannot be taken lightly. Trepanier said Red Deer needs to stop following the trend of other municipalities by growing its debt.
Attracting businesses to the downtown when there is a parking crunch was also addressed by candidates.
Jefferies said the city is starting to shift at how it looks and deals with parking and the amount of money invested in parking spaces. She suggested encouraging business employees to use Sorensen Station Parkade and using alternate forms of transportation.
Veer said the land use bylaw is always under review which is something the city can do as the downtown continues to revitalizes. Veer said there’s capacity in the existing downtown parking. On the same page as Jefferies, Veer said part of the answer is to encourage downtown workers who use on-street parking to switch over to the city’s parkade.
Horn said there has been enough money put into the downtown and it’s time for the private sector to look at the opportunities.
Next up on the forum circuit is an all-candidates Construction, Development and Real Estate Forum tonight at the Red Deer Lodge. The forum runs from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Watch the entire mayoral forum online at bprda.wpengine.com