Red Deer City Hall. (File photo)

David Marsden: Red Deer city council makes the right moves

We often complain about our politicians.

They do, after all, willingly sign up to work on behalf of the public. So it’s assumed they will be held to task: not only periodically at the ballot box, but day to day.

As in all things in life, it is important to give credit when it’s due, and some acknowledgment should be extended to Red Deer city council.

Council is showing leadership in wrestling with the challenges that have befallen Westerner Park. One can argue the city should have been aware of the financial problems earlier, but hindsight, as they say, is 20/20: it’s easy to look back in time and say poor decisions were made.

What council has done is extend a lifeline to the park, look for wrongdoing (there was none) and begin work on a plan that ensures the facility lives up to its potential, without being an undue drag on taxpayers.

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The latest consultant’s report was presented to council on Monday, and it’s to be hoped Westerner Park will experience better times under the recent leadership of Mike Olesen.

Our politicians have also been doggedly determined to hold next year’s property tax increase to zero. It might seem like a no-brainer in today’s economic climate, but our council seemed to be among the first civic politicians to realize we — the public — can’t afford to pay more.

It’s a message lost on councils in other cities, especially the biggest ones, such as Calgary. They huff and puff about how constraining spending will lead to all sorts of mayhem, never once acknowledging they’re the people hired to make the tough decisions.

Many of these out-of-town politicians are the ones who let the problem get out of hand in the first place. So, their insistence that a regard for the bottom line is going to lead to uncollected trash and slower response to fires rings hollow.

In Red Deer, council has cut staff by five per cent. That may not seem like much to families who have had to deal with much more severe belt tightening, but it’s a prudent measure, given the times we’re living in.

No doubt the decisions were made with the greatest regard for those who would lose their jobs, but also for the ordinary taxpayers who are struggling to keep their own operations afloat — whether it’s a household or a business.

A more recent example of council’s good character was last week’s vote to maintain the right-of-way for the Molly Banister Drive extension.

Your opinion on the wisdom of the decision no doubt shapes your feelings, but it was encouraging to see council reject the advice of administration.

Too often, important decisions are made by faceless bureaucrats rather than the public’s representatives.

In this case, administration recommended that a road that may well be critical for the city’s transportation needs should be sacrificed to preserve a tidy parcel for a developer to build on.

If only life were that simple. Council was having none of it. Councillors listened to the public and made a decision that wasn’t wholly popular with the public, disappointed a proud developer that will play an important role in our city’s future, and rebuffed the pencil pushers back at the office.

Not everything is rosy at City Hall. Council needs to do more to fill the vacant industrial spaces that dog the city. As much as they are a testament to the state of the energy industry and the dreams that have been dashed, they represent an opportunity for a city such as Red Deer.

We are strategically situated, have a skilled workforce and offer an enviable lifestyle.

But collectively, council has demonstrated a wish to support safe and desirable communities where families and businesses want to be and can afford to live.

On this day, that deserves acknowledgement.

David Marsden is managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

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