Mayor pleased with council’s accomplishments in first year

It’s been a year since Red Deerians went to the polls to elect a mayor and eight councillors for a four-year term.

It’s been a year since Red Deerians went to the polls to elect a mayor and eight councillors for a four-year term.

Mayor Tara Veer says the 2013-2017 council — made up of three rookies and five returning members — has accomplished much over the last 12 months.

Straight out of the gate, council was tested as Mother Nature blasted the province with early and record snowfalls.

While Veer said council would have dealt with the snow and ice control eventually, they were forced to make revisions early in the term because the existing policy did not address extreme weather events.

More resources were tapped to allow residents to navigate throughout the city streets and neighbourhoods.

“We did something about it,” said Coun. Lynne Mulder. “The proof will be in the pudding this year. I don’t think we will have the level of service that everybody in the community is going to want but I think we made a big dent.”

Urban chickens and bike lanes were among the issues inherited from the previous council.

A new urban bylaw was developed permitting up to four chickens in the backyards of city homes. Veer said this was ultimately the right decision because they heard very little public feedback one way or the other after reaching the decision.

Council made its last move on the contentious and award-winning Commuter Bike Lane Pilot, deciding to remove the painted lanes on 39th Street, east of 40th. These lanes had been a source of public debate because of safety and traffic concerns.

Coun. Ken Johnston said the hardest decision in the first year for him concerned Riverview Park. Council voted to use toe stabilization of the escarpment and to put in interim direct zoning in the area north of Cronquist Drive in Westlake.

“I was concerned about the loss of property for owners,” said Johnston. “I really think we were overreaching but we were able to put a resolution together around revisiting the zoning.”

On the advocacy front, council continued its fight to retain ambulance dispatch, which paid off in the end. The province backtracked its decision to centralize dispatch and renegotiated a deal with the city.

“Of all the accomplishments of this council over the last year, this one has the most resounding implications for our citizens,” said Veer.

Along with the city’s two MLAs, council took a strong position asking the province to keep Michener Centre open. A month ago, newly-elected Premier Jim Prentice announced that residents could live out their days at the centre.

Council also passed a resolution on temporary foreign workers and brought it to the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association annual meeting last month.

Coun. Dianne Wyntjes said there has been some criticism from people who say that council should not be stepping into this issue. Wyntjes said the issue impacts the community, the people, neighbours and the business community in Red Deer and the entire province.

Most councillors agreed that one of the big successes this year was building in “community dialogue” with residents.

Coun. Tanya Handley said the biggest things she heard from voters on the campaign trail were the complaints “I didn’t know” and “I wasn’t asked.”

“I think the success for this council after four years would be to have people really say, ‘I felt informed. I was engaged and my opinion was heard,’ ” she said.

Coun. Lawrence Lee said great strides were made over the last year on the engagement piece in the new strategic plan. He said the budget open house, which broke attendance records earlier this year, is a good indicator that residents are taking a greater interest in local government.

Council also stood behind the Pines neighbourhood residents asking the Alberta Utilities Commission to reconsider its power line route through the neighbourhood.

Coun. Paul Harris voted against the city’s corporate greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan because he felt it did not go far enough or fast enough.

Harris said he was disappointed that there was only one person on council who could see there is a more urgent need to deal with greenhouse gas emissions.

Veer said this council has worked hard to reposition Red Deer as a regional hub and to elevate the city’s profile provincially. She said council has made it a priority to engage with the public in new and meaningful ways. She counts the community amenities consultation as a prime example.

However, Veer says transportation continues to be a public concern. She said the 2014 budget was methodical in addressing those concerns with a new small bus pilot making transit more efficient and accessible, traffic light pilot to ensure efficient timing of traffic lights and other measures. She added the busy construction season is a good example.

Looking ahead, council will be faced with balancing growth with infrastructure needs and service level expectations.

“Council has yet to determine where the next area of growth will be in our city,” said Wyntjes. “Some people surmise it is to the east or should it be to the north?”

Veer said council will also keep a close eye on changes to the Municipal Government Act and how they will affect Red Deer. She said the city will likely be the first of the mid-sized cities to reach 100,000. This year, Red Deer census showed 98,585 people, retaining its status as the third largest city in Alberta.

In the year ahead, council will face a number of critical items, including a social master plan, dealing with vehicle noise, waste management, housing, priority 3 service levels, mobility in the city and service level audits.

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