This afternoon I had the pleasure of presenting the State of the City Address at an even hosted by the Chamber of Commerce.
Here’s the full text of the speech:
It’s my pleasure to present the State of the City Address for the first time as Mayor of Grande Prairie.
Before I go any further, I’d like to extend my thanks to the Grande Prairie and District Chamber of Commerce for hosting today and to each and everyone of you for attending.
I take great pride in telling others across the province how Grande Prairie, Alberta’s SEVENTH largest city, is home to Alberta’s THIRD largest Chamber.
The Chamber is a key partner for the City and I believe the state of the organization speaks to the strength of our local economy. Thank you Dave, Dan and to your whole team for hosting today -and for all the work that you do.
By design, Council and Administration come together form a single unit so I’d be remiss if I didn’t recognize the members of my team who are here today…
Croken, Gustafson, McLean, Munroe, O’Toole, Radbourne & Wong
…. and our Senior Administration Team:
Greg Scerbak & Frank Deskawech
It’s hard to believe that we’re closing in on March – We’ve already had a busy start to the year and everything suggests it will be a significant milestone for your new Council.
I had the pleasure to speak at the Chinese New Year celebration last month. At the time I noted that 2011 is the Year of the Rabbit – recognized as a year of calm, peace and an opportunity to reflect.
As global events have shown, we can probably still expect this year to have its share of excitement and turmoil. But I believe that locally, 2011 will be marked as a time of taking stock of where we are and laying the groundwork for future success.
In November, just weeks after the new Council was elected, one of our first tasks was to review the 2011 budget that had previously been approved by the prior council.
At that point, we were each working from a perspective informed by the issues we heard from residents during the election.
AND, although it’s a challenging task for a new group, I believe we were focused on a shared goal of keeping any tax increase to a minimum – Which we accomplished.
We reduced a proposed 7.6% tax increase to just 2.5%. In large part this was achieved by deferring capital projects and putting off proposed staffing increases.
For example, council choose to defer a request for 6 additional RCMP officers in 2011 that would have added just under $750 thousand dollars per year to the budget.
It’s obvious that those types of deferrals are only short term solutions.
To put our community on a more sustainable path we will need to take a longer term view and address our challenges head on.
During our March 9th to 11th strategic planning session, Council will discuss, from a Big Picture perspective, our priorities related to programs, facilities, infrastructure, services and tax levels.
The new Strategic Plan that emerges will not be a revision of past plans with a few new words here & there.
It will be the vision this council uses to guide the next three year budget cycle, and beyond.
Why is it so important to take time away from overseeing this $100 million operation to develop a plan?
I believe that at the start of this new term and budget cycle, it’s more important than ever that Council forms a collective vision of where we believe the community needs to go.
Think of it like this: A couple are discussing their vacation plans, They could go visit family in Kelowna, or Calgary or Saskatoon.
If they can’t come to some consensus on a preferred option…
If they can’t first agree on a final destination, a goal, it’s likely they’ll end up not going anywhere at all.
Once they decide it’s Calgary, the actual route they take to get there can follow.
They could fly or drive down Highway 2. Or even, maybe Highway 22. Each has it’s pluses and minuses but without first agreeing on a destination, the route wouldn’t even matter.
So the challenge for your council is to agree on a goal. A vision of what we want our community to be in the future. We need to set the destination.
Once developed, the Strategic Plan will provide a vision for Administration, allowing our admin team to set service priorities and develop a budget for Council to review next fall.
Over the course of the planning session, Council will also provide Administration with a range of financial expectations within which they can build the budget, based on the priorities we’ve established.
Going in to this, Council’s challenge will be to think long term.
And, to balance our community’s needs for infrastructure and services with the reality of our fiscal situation.
We already know that our revenue maybe be reduced by as much as $2 million as a result of the end of the fire agreement with the County of Grande Prairie, and there may be an additional loss of up to $2 million as Aquatera transitions to its own corporate services by year’s end.
In addition to the reduced revenue in these areas, we’re also dealing with the results of lower than expected funding from the provincial government’s Municipal Sustainability Initiative, or MSI, grant program.
When it was announced MSI was intended to deliver long-term sustainable funding to municipalities which would allow us to make long-term planning decisions and investments in infrastructure.
We were told we could “Bank on It.”
Unfortunately it hasn’t exactly turned out that way. For example, due to provincial budget changes last year the city received $6 million less than was forecast.
This in turn required us to take on extra borrowing to complete the construction of The Multiplex. Over the term of mortgage this extra borrowing will cost us approximately $3 million in interest, further reducing the effectiveness of our MSI monies.
Ironically, today is also provincial budget day, so we are hoping for good news for municipalities and for provincial capital projects in our community.
The final part of the financial picture that council needs to consider is the mix of land-uses in the city and how that impacts our ability to generate revenue.
In study after study in Alberta and across North America it’s recognized that residential properties consume more in services than they provide in tax revenue. It’s industrial and commercial assessment that pays the way.
The difference is staggering;
Residential properties tend to consume approximately $1.60 in services for every $1 in tax revenue they generate.
While Industrial development consumes just 14¢ in services for every $1 it generates.
In Grande Prairie our assessment is approximately 74% Residential, 24% commercial and just 2% Industrial.
As a business person, imagine discovering that 75% of your customers used more in services than they generated in revenue. What would you think of the outlook for your business? What would you do?
This is one of the factors that council cannot ignore when thinking about our community’s strategic plan.
On the more positive side council will be well equipped with an array of public input to consider as we think about the future:
This includes resident concerns and feedback we each heard during the election.
Early results from the 2011 Quality of Life/Customer Satisfaction Survey will be in, and public consultation documents from the Municipal Development Plan and Municipal Sustainability Plan processes will provide extra context.
All of this information – the challenges and the public input will help provide the foundation for our strategic plan which we’ll report back to the community on later this spring.
Speaking of public input: Right now, the research firm of Ipsos Reid is conducting the Quality of Life/Customer Satisfaction Survey by getting in touch with approximately 400 city residents.
The last customer satisfaction survey in 2009 revealed that more than 90% of residents feel there is a high quality of life in Grande Prairie.
Residents were the most satisfied with our services in the areas of Fire, Police & Enforcement and Crime Prevention.
At the same time they showed concern with Infrastructure, Affordable Housing & Land Use and Planning.
It’ll be interesting to see what the top of mind issues are for our citizens this time around.
It’ll be surprising if we don’t hear significant feedback about our snow removal program following the record downfall in mid-January.
Council has already taken the proactive step of asking Administration to conduct a thorough review of our snow removal and ice control program at the end of this winter.
The point is not to look solely at our efforts in reaction to this one weather event but to consider how we address snow removal in the big picture. Including preplanning, resources and communications.
One great news story emerging from the record snowfall was how the community embraced social media as a means of expressing their concerns, asking questions and receiving updates on our progress.
Residents can expect we’ll continue to open up opportunities for them to join in the conversation with, and about their city government.
Having a social media presence certainly proved to be a bonus when it came time to promote vacancies for volunteer positions on our boards and committees this fall.
We had a record response, with far more people interested in serving than we had spaces!
In fact, nearly 40 people applied for just 18 positions on committees.
This represents an incredible success story in community engagement and participation, something we are eager to repeat in other municipal processes.
As well, our budget deliberations last fall were webcast for the first time.
I think people appreciated the opportunity to tune into deliberations from the comfort of their homes, offices or calssrooms.
I mentioned earlier that this would be a year focused on setting the stage for success in the years to come.
Our Land Use Bylaw review, to be complete by year’s end, is one of these foundational elements.
This document will guide the dynamics and aesthetics of the City as it continues to grow.
The update will revise existing provisions to allow the City to meet its mandate to effectively control and regulate land use while still remaining sufficiently flexible to permit new opportunities and innovations.
This will be key as the City begins to annex land from the County of Grande Prairie through the Inter-municipal Development Plan, adopted last year.
The IDP identifies short- and long-term annexation areas and steps are underway to initiate that process with open houses for affected land owners scheduled for early March.
Annexation is vital to the City’s economic growth. It will provide much needed land to attract new industrial and commercial firms.
The short-term area covers about 6,000 hectares, predominantly in the northwest, northeast and several quarter sections surrounding the City identified for annexation in the former IDP.
Our Transportation Master Plan is also progressing. It will help us as we develop our transportation network to address some of the pressures of today and prepare for future growth.
This massive undertaking will explore pedestrian, cycling, transit and vehicle opportunities in the City, and beyond.
Of course it’s not all long term planning and blue-sky thinking. As we head in to 2011 the city is working on a number of important projects that will impact the future of our community and improve life for residents.
By April, we will be able to gauge interest in the possibility of redevelopment of the former York Hotel and/or Germain Park properties in our City’s Centre.
A “Request For Information” is available on AlbertaPurchasingConnection.com and has been distributed across the country to attract proposals. This is probably the most flexible and transparent process the city has ever undertaken with respect to land development. Proposals will be judged on five simple criteria:
- How do they support the concepts within the Downtown Enhancement and Municipal Development plans?
- How do they increase Density and impact Activity in the downtown?
- What is the developer’s experience with projects of this nature and their financial capability?
- What are the proposed project timelines?
- And finally, what is the overall financial benefit to the City?
It appears that the positive effects of the City’s investment in purchasing the property are already being noticed by the business community.
Yesterday at the DownTown Association’s Annual General Meeting the City was presented with a certificate of appreciation for the positive impact the change has had for businesses in the area.
Also this year,
We will expand on the foundation of our City-Wide Wireless Initiative by adding up to 100 hot spots across the community. Residents will benefit from improved customer service as our field staff will have the ability to retrieve information remotely, just as though they were at a workstation in city hall.
Our brand will be launched shortly with a new visual identity including a logo and slogan that promote the community’s innovative, resourceful and entrepreneurial nature.
We’re looking forward to the opportunity to have visual imagery that helps residents celebrate what they have while encouraging visitors and new businesses to come see why we love it here.
Close on the heals of the new visual identity the city will launch a completely redesigned website. This will be the first major update to the city’s web presence since 2004 and will allow residents and visitors to find information more easily.
We will also integrate social media features to enhance our communication capabilities and begin the steps of integrating OpenData principles.
And, recognizing that investing in infrastructure is still a priority for our community, a significant amount of capital projects will be underway including:
Twinning of 116 Street between 84th and 97th avenues as well as paving the section between 68th and 84th avenues. This will be a welcome relief for residents in the Westpointe neighbourhood and for drivers as it paves the last section of gravel between the bypass and the correction-line.
Also on the books is the badly needed rehab of 102nd Street from 97th ave to 86th avenue.
These will be just two of the projects in a summer road & sidewalk construction program that will total almost $21 million dollars.
We’ll be nearing completion on the third fire hall as we move into 2012. This facility will be an extremely valuable addition to our ability to protect the community. Its location in the west end means neighbourhoods and businesses in that area of the City will be safer and that we’ll be able to provide excellent service to the residents in the annexation areas.
The ultimate highlight of 2011 will be the completion of The Multiplex.
This facility will offer something for everyone in Grande Prairie, and beyond. I know I can’t wait for my turn on the FreeFM Freerider.
The Multiplex will be a dynamic attraction for the region, helping to make this community a destination to travel to . . . and for visitors on the road, a location where they can be enticed to stay an extra day or two.
And it all wouldn’t be possible without our community partners like Telus, Menzies, Servus Credit Union, Rotary Clubs of Grande Prairie, FreeFM, Daily Herald Tribune RBC and Radium Industrial Solutions who have come on board to support the project. Thank you.
As a municipality, we are always examining ways to improve how we do business and means to support the develop our local economy.
We have formed an Economic Development Advisory Committee, with public representatives from various sectors of the local economy.
This group will help guide the work of our Economic Development Department as it addresses the priorities outlined in our Economic Development Plan.
One of the priorities in the plan was to address the underlying costs of doing business in The North.
In response, the Economic Development has begun providing residents monthly updates on the cost of retail power while providing education on energy aggregation and promoting energy efficiency.
Also, Over two years ago we first initiated our Business Visitation Program.
Through the process, we received a lot of rich data to help us better understand the needs of our local business community. We’ll continue to follow up on those needs and priorities.
The City is also undertaking process improvement initiatives to enhance our customer service.
We took a significant step forward with the recent renovation at the City Service Centre, which for the first time brought together our Parks, Fleet, Transportation Services, Engineering and Planning in one building. This move will provide a one-stop-shop for construction and development and improve our internal coordination.
Speaking of these important departments I’d like to recognize them for their commitment customer service.
Just a few weeks ago the City was honoured to receive the 2010 Customer Service Award from the Grande Prairie Home Builders’ Association. For our staff to be recognized by such an important partner is very rewarding.
On a on a different topic, I’d like to cover some of the steps we’ve taken around advocating for our City and the Region.
The job of keeping Grande Prairie top of mind for Provincial decision makers is never ending and has to be a priority for the City.
Earlier this month, Council approved a schedule of twice yearly visits to the Alberta Legislature.
These will occur in Spring and Fall of each year for the balance of the term and will be in addition to our continued support of regional lobby efforts such as those led by the Chamber of Commerce.
I believe the objective of these kind of missions should be to proactively build relationships & increase communication with Provincial Ministers and departments.
We need to ensure that Grande Prairie’s voice is heard and that our story is understood.
Some of our immediate priorities include; capital funding for Aquatera’s Waste Water Treatment Plant improvements, construction of the new hospital, expansion at GPRC and support for new K-to-12 schools.
In all of this we recognize that our partners are important.
Immediately after the election council and I identified a number of community partners and regional municipalities that council wanted to meet with.
We have regular meetings with our partners at the County of Grande Prairie, the Chamber, our local school boards, GPRC, the Homebuilders’ Association, the Urban Developers Institute and many, many others in an effort to strengthen our understanding of the community and keep the lines of communication open.
In closing …
It’s been my pleasure to update you on some of the challenges the city is facing, some of the key municipal initiatives coming up in the short term and to offer some insights into what the future holds.
I believe the best way council can contribute the continued progress of our community is to:
- Be a Willing & Accessible Community Partner
- Continue Working to Provide Excellent Service
- Openly Discuss the Challenges Facing our City
- Establish Clear Priorities and regularly report on our progress and finally,
- To Be Visionary by setting long-term goals that will guide our organization and our decision making.
The first few steps will happen in the coming weeks.
I’d ask you all to lend us your support as we proceed and I’ll commit that we’ll remain accessible & accountable to you as we move forward in building an excellent community that you can be proud of.
Thank you. . . . → Read More: Bill Given: 2011 State of the City Address