If you’re looking for a place to plant your roots, Lacombe offers pretty fertile ground, according to MoneySense magazine.
The personal finance publication has ranked the Central Alberta city 17th on its 2014 list of the best places to live in Canada — nine positions below the number 8 spot that Lacombe held last year.
“We would have liked to stay in the top 10, but I think for a community our size to be in the top 20 for the second year in a row, it was a fair position for us,” said Guy Lapointe, the city’s community and economic development manager.
Red Deer came in at number 33 on this year’s MoneySense list, an improvement from 38th place in 2013. Sylvan Lake was ranked 159th, down from 93 last year.
In 2012, Red Deer was ninth, Lacombe 26th and Sylvan Lake 139th.
St. Albert was declared the best place to live this year, with Calgary number 2 and Strathcona County third. Rounding out the top five were Ottawa and Burlington, Ont.
Edmonton was eighth, Lethbridge 34th, Grande Prairie 51st, Medicine Hat 78th and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo 139th.
The rankings were based on a list of 34 criteria, including employment, income levels, population growth, housing costs, taxes, weather, crime, access to health care and employment in the arts, culture, recreation and sports.
The Central Alberta communities all scored well in population growth (with Lacombe seventh overall in this category) but lost ground when it came to temperature.
In the case of crime rates over the past five years, a 29.6 per cent reduction earned Lacombe one of the best scores, while Red Deer was at other end of the spectrum, thanks to a 43.2 per cent increase in crime.
Red Deer also lost ground for its 11th-worst placement on the crime severity index.
Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said she’s pleased with her city’s improved placement relative to 2013. She added that concerns about crime are something she and her council take seriously.
“Whether it’s a perception or reality, with respect to crime I think it’s absolutely imperative that we address that.”
Veer listed a number of recent initiatives the city has taken in this regard, including funding for the Central Alberta crime prevention centre, the adoption of a proactive approach to policing, and investment in the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT), which targets organized crime.
“While in a general sense, our crime rate statistics on both the property and persons crime are in a downward trend, I think if crime and crime-related concerns are diminishing our overall ranking in articles such as this, then obviously it tells me we’re on the right path in terms of identifying crime as an issue and facing it head-on.”
Joanne Gaudet, Sylvan Lake’s communications officer, thinks her town is also taking steps that will improve its scores on a number of MoneySense’s criteria.
These include business rejuvenation initiatives and lobbying for an urgent care facility.
She also pointed out that a process that amounts to an accounting exercise may not be the best way to evaluate a community.
“You do have to remind yourself that we’re looking at statistics and numbers, and they’re being put together by someone in an office that doesn’t necessarily consider the fact that someone is here because it’s a great community and we have great neighbours.
“I certainly don’t recall in any of my previous relocation efforts looking up a MoneySense list and thinking, ‘Well, maybe I should live here instead.’”
Lapointe attributed Lacombe’s strong showing to the fact it scored reasonably well across all of MoneySense’s categories. The city has done well three years in a row shows that its performance is not a statistical blip, he added.
“You don’t want to hang your hat on one publication, but we do use it in our marketing efforts.”
The MoneySense rankings and related stories can be found online at www.moneysense.ca. They will also be published in the magazine’s April issue.