Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Notes From The Mayor's Desk: December 2014

Why have I been hearing about "Budget" so much?
Each year, every municipality is required by the Municipal Government Act to plan expenditures for the next year and pass an "Operational Budget" by the middle of December.  The Operations Budget is the "day to day" cost of running the business and services in Town.  Cutting the grass, managing parks and buildings, looking after roads, streets and alleys, having staff in the office to answer questions, do payroll, bill you for utilities and taxes, manage budgets and costs associated with Council are some examples of what is accounted for in the Operations Budget. 
About 75% of the Operations Budget is staffing because the town needs people to do these tasks - and equipment, so there are fuel costs and maintenance costs for machinery and vehicles that are necessary to do this work. In 2014, the Operations Budget required $2,715,371 from taxes, which was a 2.94% increase in taxes from 2013.
Staff and Council also make a plan for a "Capital Budget".  This is a "project budget".  There are 50 - 60 year old pipes in the ground for water and wastewater that need replacement; there are sidewalks and roads that need to be repaired or replaced, and there are playgrounds and buildings that need to be updated to meet safety standards.  Staff and Councils for many years have inventoried these items, prioritized a replacement plan, and budgeted a "reserve" contribution from taxes to save money to do the work in future years so there doesn't have to be as much borrowing to do replacement projects.  Previous Councils have put "reserves" away for many of these "Capital" projects because borrowing money to do projects where ratepayers pay interest to get things done is not an acceptable business plan.  Some of the money you pay in taxes is saved to do future projects that are part of a long range "Capital Plan".
Council is planning a 2-year budget with a 3.89% increase to taxes in 2015 and a 1.97% increase to taxes in 2016. Our goals are to keep taxes as low as possible while generating reserves to meet the needs of our long range Capital Replacement Plan, meet resident expectations for service and keep looking for ways to cut costs.  For residential property owners with a $250,000 assessed property value (which is average in Sundre) will pay an extra $71.50 in 2015 and a further increase of $37.75 in 2016.  A commercial property with an assessed value of $250,000 will see a yearly increase of $105.75 in 2015 and $55.55 in 2016.
The plan for "Capital Projects" in 2015 will see us spending $2,195,000 on our water and wastewater systems, gas system, parks, and other projects.  In 2016, the "Capital Project" list will cost $1,162,000.  Much of the money required to complete those projects will come from "reserves" and from grant money that comes from the provincial and federal governments.  In 2015, we expect to put $246,070 in reserves for future projects and in 2016, the contribution to reserves from taxes will be $243,091, as we continue to put money away to pay for future projects to avoid borrowing wherever possible.  A little over 1% of the increase in taxes goes toward saving for future projects.
I pulled my 2014 tax notice.  My bill is $2721.56 for the year.  If I take away the School requisition of $681.82 and the Mountain View Senior's Housing requisition of $40.20, my actual "Town of Sundre" tax bill is $1999.54 for all the programs, services and facilities I enjoy in the community I love and choose to live in. That is $5.48 per day.  My "Town" taxes will go up 20 cents/day next year and 10 cents/day in 2016.  My intent is not to make light of the difficulties and struggles many of us face at different times in our lives.  These are facts and realities we face when we live in one of the most desirable places to live - on the planet.
Why do taxes go up?  We are growing, which is a good thing - and there are some increasing costs for that growth.  Costs keep going up is the short answer to that question.  Our job, as Council and Staff, is to find the most efficient ways of providing services to you.  Budgets can be a little complicated.  If you have questions please call me at home at 403-638-3535 or email me at terry.l@sundre.com.  Talk with Councillors and our CAO, Dave Dubauskas.  We want to hear from you if you have questions or suggestions.

Mayor Terry Leslie

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Notes From The Mayor's Desk: November 2014

What is the Corridor Enhancement Plan?
On October 8th, at the Sundre Community Centre, the Corridor Enhancement Committee of Council hosted a public information session regarding a Corridor Pilot Project.  This committee was formed in 2013 and is made up of residents, stakeholders and Councillors.  The job of the Committee is to review a study (the Genivar report) compiled by consultants, get feedback from local residents and businesses, and make recommendations to Council as to how changes should be made to improve Highway 27 through Sundre.  The plan also covers parts of Centre Street.
There is some history to this issue.  The Town of Sundre doesn't own Highway 27 - the Province does.  In 2008, Alberta Transportation made the decision to change Highway 27 through Sundre from 2 lanes to 4 lanes.  The reason for the change was that there was expected to be increases in traffic volumes and this was seen as a logical solution to traffic flow. 
The change has raised many safety concerns from citizens as large trucks pass, what many complain to be dangerously close to pedestrians on the sidewalk.  Businesses have complained about debris being bounced from the roadway.  The "original parking lanes" are deteriorating and breaking up as they were not originally intended, according to some, to carry such heavy traffic so regularly.
Some businesses have cited a 30% loss in revenue with the loss of parking and the reduced "foot traffic" past their businesses - and that comes from businesses that continue to operate.  There have been businesses that have simply closed the doors.  There is concern from the Chamber of Commerce that perhaps $15 million in lost revenue may have been one of the unintended consequences of this change from 2 lanes to 4 lanes.  This is a devastating economic reality for any community.
Safety is the most important concern for all of us.  A year ago, Town officials met with Alberta Transportation and heard that there is recognition that a change is necessary to address safety concerns of local residents and businesses.  An Alberta Transportation official was at the Corridor Enhancement Public Meeting October 8th to hear concerns from local residents and businesses, and that official also met with the Corridor Enhancement Committee to review the input from those in attendance.  Town officials will be meeting with Alberta Transportation in Edmonton in November to continue finding a solution to this very serious safety concern for our residents.
The "Plan" that is being talked about is to reduce 4 lanes to 3 lanes (one lane each direction with a turning lane in the center) and move traffic further away from the sidewalks to address the most important "pedestrian safety" issue.  In addition, we have to have better parking options for shoppers and tourists, better "way finding" signs, and we need to enhance the "comfort and feel" for those walking along the sidewalk. 
This is a big job.  It starts with an application to Alberta Transportation for a "Pilot Project" that will allow us to "check the plan" before it is made permanent.  Highway 27 belongs to Alberta Transportation - and they need time, like the Town of Sundre, to find money in Capital Plan priorities to approve projects.  The Chamber of Commerce has been very helpful in "pushing" Alberta Transportation for action on this issue, which really helps Town officials in their meetings with Alberta Transportation.  We hope to have "action" by Spring of 2015.  Everyone involved is very committed to addressing safety concerns that have been brought to us.  Thank you to all who have been working behind the scenes to deal with this important community issue.
Please call me at home at 403-638-3535 if you would like to talk further about this, or any other issue of concern to you.

Mayor Terry Leslie

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Notes From The Mayor's Desk: October 2014

Thank you very much to all those 38 people who took the time to tell us what we are doing well, what we need to work on, and who gave us a grade for our first year in our Council chairs.  The grade was a B-, which is better than average, and it means we have more work to do to improve in the next year.  There were 6 "A"s, 20 "B"s, 10 "C"s, 2 "D"s and 0 "F"s.
There might have been a little controversy in the decision about "how" to get this information and "where" to get money to pay for the idea, but there was never a question about whether Council wanted to hear from residents about their concerns and the things you are happy with.  Everyone on Council wants to hear from you as often as you wish to take the time to talk with any of us.  We are all grateful we live where we do, we get the chance to talk about good ideas, and that we may each, occasionally, be on the minority side of an issue.  It comes with the territory when you are elected.  As members of Council, we expect to have some differences of opinion, just like we might have, in any conversation, just about anywhere in our lives.  When we disagree on Council – it creates a place for a productive conversation and one of the reasons why we live in the best country in the world.  We all support the majority decisions made by Council, and we all thank you for your report card comments.
What did you say?  You said some really nice things about how the staff handled the winter snow last year, you liked the improvements to playgrounds, the cleanliness of the Town, the beautification with flowers and the work done to try and address flood related issues.  Each of these areas got multiple positive comments.  There was satisfaction with the progress on the new Mountain View Seniors Housing project that has officially broken ground, the attempts to fix deteriorating sidewalks and roads, staff accessibility, and an improvement in attending to the importance of growing business or bringing business into the area.  There were positive comments about the improved relationship with Mountain View County, the fact we are asking you for your opinion, improvements in communication, and real support for trying to keep taxes low.
Suggestions and concerns outnumbered satisfied comments.  Fix some sidewalks and streets, fix the road by Tim Hortons and make the downtown more safe & pedestrian friendly were the issues that received comments from more than one resident.  There were single comment suggestions to fix the arena heaters, cancel sani-dump fees for Town residents, put less gravel at intersections in the winter, plant more trees on Main Street, better recreation signage, better cat bylaw enforcement, encourage more variety in local businesses, have more activities available for families, better enforcement of speeding and noise on Main Street, and a number of other suggestions that will be taken to Council in a document longer than this article will allow.
This is a very short summary of the four pages of notes in the summary of comments.  All received comments will be presented to Council for consideration.  Some we may be able to do, without much impact to budget, some we can fix easily, and some will certainly take longer.  In the next year, we will try to report to you on our progress on these concerns at Council meetings, through this article each month, through open houses on topics like improvements in the downtown and through conversations you may wish to have with any Council member.
So, what happened to the $100 draw prize?  I will leave that a mystery in our community.  One lucky ratepayer in town who filled out the survey will get a call from me with a $100 gift.  Because we are the community of Sundre and District, and because we value the opinions of all members of our community, whether they live in Town or in the County, there will be another $100 gift to a County resident.  In our "tech-connected” community, how long do you think it will take for the winners to be known if I don't tell you who they are? 
Thank you again to everyone who took the time to fill out this survey for us.

Mayor Terry Leslie

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Notes from the Mayor's Desk: September 2014

How are we doing as a Council and Staff?
It has been almost a year since the lead up to the election last fall.  For all of us who ran for Council, we spent time meeting with people asking what you wanted to see continued and changed in the next term of Council.  The last election also marked a change in the term of all municipal Councils in Alberta.  We were all elected for a 4-year term rather than the 3-year term that had previously been the norm.
We all spent time listening to voters, we had a public forum, and we were all judged at the ballot box, based on what you hoped we would do for the community for the next 4 years.  We know you don't want to have to wait until the next election to be asked about what is happening in town and on Council.
So, how are we doing?  Council and Staff want to know your thoughts, your concerns, suggestions, what we need to keep doing and what we need to improve.  We have had a year in our Council chairs.  I will tell you some of the things we have spent our time trying to accomplish over the past year in this article, but more importantly, we want you to come see us at Neighbor's Day, the Welcome Back Bar-B-Q, or at our website, to "give us a report card".
We could hire a consultant… or we could spend some of your money giving you a chance for a $100 credit on your utility bill in a draw if you choose to fill out a form where we ask you for three things -1.  Tell us one thing you like that we have done in the last year, 2.  Tell us one thing we need to fix, or attend to in the next year, and 3.  Give us a grade of A, B, C, D, or F.  Let us know your thoughts and get your name in for the draw.
Taxes. This is the single biggest concern we hear about from residents and businesses.  It costs money to have what we have in town.  We need to keep taxes as low as possible so we can have an affordable community to live in - and for businesses to operate and grow.  Council passed a residential tax increase of 2.94% and a non-residential (commercial) increase of 1.59%.  Commercial vacant property tax decreased by 3.23%.
Council and staff are mandated to operate a municipal corporation providing services to residents and businesses as efficiently as possible.  We can decide we want to have a 0% "flat-line" budget, if we are all willing to see cuts in services provided (for example: like not doing snow removal last year after we blew through the budget long before the snow stopped falling).  Part of the tax increase goes toward putting money away in reserves to save for the replacement of 30-40 year old pavement, sidewalks, pipes in the ground and replacement of our sewage treatment plant and water system components.  We are probably heading into a two year budget cycle in the next few months and we want to be crystal clear as to your thoughts - keep taxes as low as possible and look for more efficient ways to do business.
In the last year, we have spent a tremendous amount of time attending to community concerns and fears surrounding the 2013 Flood event and the possibility of more flood devastation.  We have worked very closely with Mountain View County, Clearwater County, Red Deer County, Provincial Ministers, Alberta Environment, various engineering firms, our MLA, Joe Anglin, MPs, and community members.  The Alberta government has agreed to fund a proposed berm upstream that would prevent overland flooding through Mountain View County and Sundre.  There is still a great deal of work to do on that project - and on the flood mitigation file as well.
We have heard you say you want Council and Staff to provide better "customer service" where we show you we work for you.  Are we improving?  We have heard we should communicate with residents better. How are we doing?  What can we do better?
Please take some time to talk with us - and to fill out a "report card" to get your name in a draw for $100 credit on your utility bill.

Mayor Terry Leslie
Town of Sundre

How Are We Doing?

Please tell us one thing that you like about what we have done in the past year.

Please tell us one thing we need to fix, or attend to, in the next year.

What grade do you give us for our work in the past year. Circle  A.  B.  C.  D.  F. 

Thank you for taking the time to let us know your thoughts :)


Your Name & Phone Number
(if you want to be entered into a draw for $100 credit on your utility bill)