Let me start this Blog entry by saying that today's meeting with council and administration, was a very long winded one and my report of it, is equally as long winded. Consider yourself forewarned. :-)
Today, October 9th, 2012, at 3:00 p.m., the Executive of the Rate Payer's Association met with the Mayor, Council and some members of administration, for a "special" meeting, at the MDM building.
Those in attendance were:
Council members: the Mayor - Bruce Decoux, Andrew Saje, Larry Mitchell, Brian Gallant, Jerry Lonsbury & almost an hour late to the meeting came Emile Saindon.
Councillor Siegbert Gail was conspicuously absent.
Administration in Attendance: CAO - Myron Thompson, CFO - Marion Vanoni, Director of Protective and Community Services - Albert Headrick, the New Fire Chief - Steve Munshaw and secretary/recorder - Carolee Ison.
Executive of the Rate Payer's Association: President - Bill Kovach, Vice President & Hillcrest Representative - Larry Ruzek, Coleman Representative - Sasha JaegerBaird, Hillcrest Representative - Rudy Pagnucco, Bellevue Representative's - Gail Montgomery & Troy Clark, Blairmore/Frank Representative's - Marilyn Milley & Marlene Anctil, Secretary - Doreen Glavin & Treasurer - Elsie Linderman. Absent was Coleman Representative - Ed Strembicki.
Media in attendance were: Pass Promoter - Joni MacFarlane, Pass Herald Reporter - Lindsay Goss, CJPR - Randy Spencer, Global Television Reporter - Quinn Campbell & Alternative Media - John Prince.
The meeting was originally scheduled for 2:00 p.m. It was changed to start at 3:00 p.m. due to some council members who could not make it for the 2:00 p.m. start time. The Rate Payer's Executive arrived at 2:35 p.m. and were asked to wait in the hallway, while council and administration conversed. The Media and the Rate Payer's Executive were asked to join the room at 2:50 p.m.
The "special" meeting commenced at 2:55 p.m.
The meeting started with the Mayor asking us to agree on an end time for the meeting of 4:30 p.m. (which later was changed to accommodate the list of issues not yet covered by this time).
The Mayor stated that we would run this "special" meeting like a normal council meeting, in that we would run our statements/questions through him to other members of council and administration and visa versa.
He then turned the floor over to the Rate Payer's President Bill Kovach, who represented the Rate Payer's Executive through this meeting.
Bill started with addressing the Triennial Budget. He made the request that council scrap the Triennial Budget and go back to the way it was before. He stated that this type of budget was made for a community which is both prosperous and growing, of which we are neither.
He suggested that a new budget be drafted up for 2013 (as an annual budget). He said that this was both realistic and economically feasible and one which the community can live with.
He then stated that council should enter into a referendum of agreement to cut spending that meaning, not being allowed to raise taxes, fees, levies and service costs to balance the budget.
This request was met with a response by both Brian Gallant and Marion Vanoni.
It was explained that this kind of budget was becoming the norm everywhere and that very soon Municipal Affairs would expect every Municipality to use this kind of budget.
Brian Gallant said that it was very normal nowadays for most places to utilize a 3-5 year budget and a 5-10 year Capital Plan.
Marion explained that this type of budget was a "Living Document" and could and would be changed and updated as necessary. She said that our Strategic Plan was also a "Living Document" and it, too, could and would be changed as needed.
She went onto say that until 2007 the Crowsnest Pass has run in a deficit position. In 2007 was the first time that this Municipality could take the surplus created, to pay down that deficit. She also said that the budget would be reviewed every year and be adjusted "as we go".
Brian said this was all part of a "Long Term Plan" for the Municipality.
Next issue addressed by Bill was the budget and financial information requested by the Rate Payers Association, from Myron Thompson, way back in the beginning of August that we still, as of today, not received, even though we were told that we would have it by Mid-September.
Myron jumped right in to explain that it had been on the internet.
Bill replied that those numbers were wrong and not broken down enough.
Myron then handed Bill a large stack of papers that, according to him, are the correct and requested information. Bill told council we would go through them.
Myron then offered to sit down with the Rate Payer's Executive anytime, and go over the numbers.
It was also suggested by Myron, that the Rate Payer's Executive be there on October 22nd, when council and administration go over the upcoming budget.
Bill then addressed "Excessive Spending" and that it should be stopped. He said that effective immediately Council and administration should get rid of the consultants and redundant staff and to begin to trim the bureaucratic fat.
The Mayor, Bruce Decoux, responded to this by saying that he and council were just preparing for success. He said that they liked to look at the glass as half full, rather than half empty.
Bill brought up the increased interest rate, taxes and levies.
Jerry Lonsbury jumped in by stating very vehemently that "his" Municipal Levy has not increased much in over the last 10 years. He provided us with a breakdown of his Tax Assessment. He said that in 2002 his Municipal Tax Levy was $2,276.53 and now, in 2012, it is $2,288,14, an increase of only $11.61 in almost 10 years.
Bill responded that Jerry was pretty lucky and that many of the rest of us taxpayers are not quite so fortunate.
Bill then brought up the increased interest rate that is supposed to be now imposed on off-site levies. He said that it was not a good way to encourage new people to the community by charging them so much.
Larry Mitchell then interjected by telling us that the interest on the offsite levies is no longer in effect. (a win for us)
Myron told us that the levies have not been addressed in over 12 years. He said that they were now either inline with other similar communities or even lower.
Brian then stated that the levies are currently paid for or subsidized by us, the taxpayers. He said that council has decided to shift the burden/responsibility back on the home owner and off of the taxpayers. He indicated that we, as tax payers, should be very happy with this decision.
Bill then went on to bring up the Peace Officer Program and the added expense that this program has put upon the taxpayers. He said that it was a major concern expressed by the public. He went on to say that council should cancel or opt out of the Provincial Peace Officer Program. He said that the majority of taxpayers agree that all we need is one very efficient Bylaw Officer. We need one that just enforces bylaws not spending all the time issuing highway speeding tickets. Bill went on to say that we already have substantial and free RCMP patrolling our area and doing it efficiently as well.
He said that the Enforcement pie on the chart on the Municipal website is $810,000.00. He said that we want to know where that money is coming from. He said that Protective Services is separate and is $650,000.00.
Bruce said that he would turn it over to Marion to explain, however there were good reasons for the program and then he would address this issue again later in the meeting.
Marion responded with several operational costs and numbers. She also said that the amounts included the Agriculture Program and Animal Control. She said that tax levies were are $320,000.000 and the mill rate was $1,000,000.00.
Brian Gallant also responded as to why we have a Peace Officer Program in place. He said that it is to make this a better and safer place in which to live and attract new people and business. He said that one person can not patrol this entire community. He said that some good news is that only 2 bylaw tickets have been issued in the last month. He said that most bylaw infractions have been handled by simple communication between the Peace Officers and the person involved, without the issuing of tickets.
He said that the Peace Officer Program is a great revenue generator for the municipality. He said that other communities that have them have more than paid for themselves and made money. He cited Longview and it being know as a place you better slow down or get a ticket. He said that we could be like them, making tons of money from the tickets issued on the highway, especially on long weekends by city people speeding.
Bruce went on to state that our long standing "Peace Officer" - Bylaw Officer that we have had for years, was "illegitimate". Bruce explained to us that these fellows who did the job over the past many years, were never approved to do Peace Officer duties, even though they applied to the program. This was due to a clerical/administrative issue that was never rectified with the Provincial Government.
Bruce said that our past Bylaw Officers were doing Peace Officer duties, but only had the authority of a Bylaw Officer. As a result, most infractions that they dealt with and decisions that they made, were continuously overturned by council. Then they would quit, because they had felt that they had no authority.
Bruce said that this decision to bring in a Peace Officer Program, was a long time coming and a good one for our community. He said that by having a Peace Officer, instead of a Bylaw Officer, all complaints, issues and tickets will now be handled through the court of Queen's Bench and not the Municipality.
He went on to say that a lot of our old bylaws were wrong. They were either worded wrong or just incorrect. He said that council and administration are now in the process of updating and correcting them.
He also went on to say that as of right now, there are 280 unsightly premises on the books, that need dealing with.
He stated that "We need to clean up the community!!! We need bylaws with teeth, to clean it up."
He said that it is also a safety factor. We need good protection to attract new people to this community, but he would talk more on that topic later in the meeting.
He said that we need two Peace Officers to cover both shifts, evenings and weekends.
Albert Headrick took a turn to talk, saying that proper safety affects our quality of life. He said we need enforcement in place to ensure things are okay once we push tourism. He said that our Peace Officers compliment the local RCMP. He said that the RCMP's priority is crime, not enforcment or writing tickets. He said that the Peace Officer Program is a joint venture with the RCMP.
Marlene Anctil asked why it seems like quite often we see the two Peace Officers in the truck together, if in fact we have two of them in order to cover all shifts.
Albert replied that is could be several things. He said that it might in fact be a RCMP officer with the Peace Officer doing a ride-along. He asked why send two trucks when they can ride together? He also said that sometimes the two go out together when they have a known "problem person" to deal with. He also said that the one was still training when it comes to several things and they will go together while he is training.
The Mayor finished by saying that there are several people on a special "watch list". He said that they are known aggressive people. He said that when this happens that the Peace Officer must deal with this person, then they quite often go together. He said that this type of call "needs" two people to respond to it. He cited the recent beating of our Bylaw Officer as an example.
Bill then addressed the Fire Budget, the Firemen Walkout Protest and the firing of Fire Chief Jamie Margetek. He strongly suggested that council and administration reinstate our Voluntary Firefighters and follow their departmental budget which was realistic and cost effective. He said that this will save a bundle as it would get rid of our new Fire Chief (whom we don't need) and the cost of the paid firefighters, which has currently been implemented. He asked if we keep it the way it is today, where exactly is this money going to come from, other than from us, the already strapped taxpayer?
Albert and the new Fire Chief, Steve Munshaw, were directed to reply to this.
Albert addressed the Fire Protection Issue. He said that Fire Protection and technology have evolved and changed greatly through the years. He said that the main concerns were now structure, operational guidelines and efficiency. He said that it was extremely important that these things need to be addressed and soon. He said that the current Fire Department Chiefs do not have the time and could not be expected to deal with these issues. Therefore that is why we need a Fire chief. That this change has been along time coming and that all four Fire Departments were aware of this needing to happen. He said that nowadays it is all about due diligence.
He said that the Master Fire Plan has been in the works for awhile now. As has the Fire Station Location study. He said that this Fire Station Location Study would be good for us because it would lead to cost effectiveness, better coverage, the elimination of duplicate services and provide a better level of services. He said that the firemen knew about this. It is no surprise to them. They have been consulted and included in the process.
Steve Munshaw said that he had a meeting with several of the firefighters on Sunday. He said that communication has been restarted with them and many of them are on board with the new structure, contrary to what is being said around the community.
Albert jumped back in to say that with the new program the firemen will be providing better service than what we have now.
Brian Gallant went on to say he has nothing against the current firemen. He stated that he respects them and thinks that they do a good job, but not the best job that they could potentially do. He said that they they need more training to be better. That they are not up to the current standards. They are the same today that they have been for a very long time. They need to move forward and get the proper training.
Albert said that when he sits down with the firemen, to go over the New Master Fire Plan, he would like to include the Rate Payer's Executive in that discussion.
Andrew Saje then asked what the budget was from the voluntary firefighters. He directed this question to administration.
Marion said that she did not have their figures and went on to change the subject. She asked the question about whether we really need an aerial ladder, if we need a new one or could we buy a good used one, in fact why do we even need to buy on at all??
Marilyn echoed this question and asked about the the platform that the Municipality currently has.
Albert said that we already have a 1976 King 80 foot platform, but it is not insurance worthy. He also addressed buying a used one, stating that we get what we pay for. If we buy a $250,000.00 used one, then we will have $250,000.00 worth of other people old problems. He said that a new one would run over a million dollars. He went on to say that the best idea was getting one through a joint purchase with another Municipality. This way they can buy in bulk saving much money and maybe even getting a new one for $500,00.00 - $600,000.00 instead of a new one for over $1,000,000.00. He then went on to ask, do we even need one? Do we even have the water capacity for one? He says that currently they are doing an equipment review.
Brian told us that Fire Department costs have not gone up as we think they have. He said that instead the amounts in the past have not be allocated into the right budget. The Municipality has currently allocated $225,00.00 this year and $225,000.00 next year, for a quint, but will not be able to buy one for this price. He said that we also have to replace our fire equipment. He stated that our fire fighters are under-trained and need to meet current standards.
Bill asked who is it that says that we need to replace the current equipment?
Myron then told us that even if we looked into a used quint we would have to set aside $225,000.00 this year and an additional $225,000.00 next year. He also said that we would still be in a situation where we would need to borrow the money for one.
Andrew asked if the information would be in the budget at the end of the month.
Brian said that everything was being paid for, but in different budgets. He said that now they are all under one budget. He said it only looks like a lot more money.
Albert was then asked by Marilyn Milley, with his 37 years experience of firefighting, why he did not apply for the position of Fire Chief? And also could our
voluntary fire chief could report directly to him?
Albert very strongly went on to say that we need a full time Fire Chief!!!! He said that it has been in the plans for many years. He stated that it is all very complicated. He says that everyone needs a life outside of their work position. He said that many things need to be done. He said that with his current position, he is too busy to deal with fire protection full time, andthat he was responsible to so many
other facilities and departments that he just didn't have time. He again stated that we need a full time Fire Chief to do all of these things that need doing!!
Myron said that there was to be many new things implemented regarding fire protection, such as public awareness and education and in house training to save costs, that the new Fire Chief would be doing.
Bill asked Steve Munshaw if he was certified to be a fire inspector. Steve replied that he pretty much had everything that he would need except that he has to apply for the license and take an exam.
The next subject that Bill brought up was the Chinook Pipeline's Lawsuit. He asked if the Municipality loses the lawsuit, where will the money come from to pay for it?
Bruce addressed that topic. He stated that "We will NOT lose it!!"
He went on to say "However, if we do, the Municipality's insurance will cover it".
Brian jumped in, saying that in his experience and judgement, the Municipality is NOT in the wrong!!
Bill then addressed the Devon Gas Plant Closure Issue. He asked if council has considered the cost replacement method (new tax base) now that the Municipality has lost Devon. Where will that tax base come from??? What will offset the loss??
Mayor Bruce replied. He again brought up the new light manufacturing plant that is expected to make the Crowsnest Pass its new home. He said that it will employ 70 people once it is up and running but abut 30 people to start. He said that we are the company's first choice for location. He went on to say that the only thing stopping it from moving ahead, at the current time, is an issue with how to put clean hot water back into the environment properly. He said that this business is trying hard to overcome this problem.
Bill addressed the River Run issue.
Bruce replied. He said that currently there are 285 lots coming back to the municipality and will be put out for public auction. However, the Municipality wants to sell the lots as a package and needs permission from the courts in order to do so. He said that we are waiting for an answer back and should have one by March of 2013. They want to attract another developer, that is why they want to sell the lots as a package, however they want to make sure it is done properly this time.
Bill brought up what are the plans for the Crowsnest Center?
The Mayor also responded to this one. He said that we are down to the last few legal problems. He said that the lawyer's have been working hard to make sure that everything is correct so that we don't have another River Run problem on our hands. He said that the Municipality is being very careful. He did go on to say that it will be done within the next two weeks. He said that the company that plans on developing where the old hospital is, wants to hold a session with the residents of the Crowsnest Pass, in order to get the publics input. Bruce expects to have some progress made by Christmas or by next spring at the latest.
Bill then brought up the Unsightly Premises Bylaw. Bruce told us that currently the Peace Officers are dealing with Traffic Issues, but it will balance out over time.
He said that once things have fallen into place, the Peace Officers will divide their time to 1/3 bylaw, 1/3 education and 1/3 traffic.
He stated that the current bylaws need redrafting.
Myron then jumped in to tell us that council and administration is currently going over the bylaws and making the final decisions and revisions.
Bruce stated that "We want to be prepared!!! We see the glass as half full!!"
He said that the Government has identified the Crowsnest Pass as a future iconic area and that this is very good news for us.
He then told us that there are "two" very BIG, heavy industries that have contacted the Municipality and are considering coming here. He said that one of them will employ as many as 700 people or more. He said that the Crowsnest Pass may very well become the next Fort McMurray (but not near on such a big scale). He said that our council is just preparing for this future and we will appreciate all the steps that this council has currently taken and that it will all make sense, once that time comes.
Bill then asked the council members if they were happy with council's direction and what has transpired by them. He asked if they could respond individually.
Jerry had his say first. He stated that he was extremely happy with how council was moving forward. He then stated that that much of what is currently going on within the community and on Facebook is just rumors. That he is tired of it and that people need to stop starting and spreading these rumors. They need to deal in facts.
The Mayor said that they can come to him, or any of the council or administration, for the facts, anytime!!!
Marlene Anctil stated that many people are intimidated by council and the mayor, that they are unapproachable.
Brian disagreed and said that many many people come to him all the time and he make the time for them. He said that he gets a lot of great feedback. People are constantly telling him that he should stick to his guns!! He told us that there are quite a few people that agree totally with council and what they are doing. However, they tell him that they and are afraid to speak up, for fear of being bullied by others within the community.
Emile jumped in and said that he can count on one hand how many people have approached him since he has got in on council. He says that he can walk down he streets and no one comes near him. He wishes that they would come to him. He said that he works at the landfill and his door is always open.
Bruce acknowledged that maybe Gail was right that council, including the Mayor, can seem a bit stand-offish and that maybe they need to work on that.
Larry Mitchell said that "We need to move ahead, not look behind us".
Andrew Saje asked why the Rate Payers Association even exists? What was it reactivated? Why with this council?
He suspects that it has to do with the lines of communication, between members of the community and council/administration. Andrew suggested that maybe we are not getting the information that we need.
Emile's comments were: "I do my research!! I do NOT speak out of turn. I get my information first."
He went on to say: "This council has done a lot of hard work. Everyone has done work in their areas of expertise. Council has worked together. The direction we are going is the direction we need to go!!"
As the councilor's finished, Bill then made his final point.
He told council that this community has seen no visible improvement since this council took over the reigns and it appears as though nothing will change, cost increases or not, because the profit from the increases are being totally wasted on projects and consultants that are going nowhere. He went on to say that the Strategic Plan which was to extend over a period of 10 years is being implemented in a community that the Plan was not intended for. He stated that it was intended for a successful and prosperous community of which we are not. He went on to say that in order to prosper, a community must have growth and anyone can see that we are stagnating and declining at a rapid rate and can ill afford to create the utopia suggested by the Mayor and his Strategic Plan.
Somehow then we got talking about protocols and policies.
Marion stated that there are new stringent protocols in place. All policies have to come before a Policy Committee. Then it has to have a wording developed and then back to the Policy Committee. Then it is presented to council. It might be thrown back to the Policy Committee for more work and then onto the G & P. ....
At this point, she was trying to tell us more, but Myron placed his hand on her knee under the table and she stopped talking.
It was brought up about the communication within the Municipality and their way of advertising and announcing issues & events. The Mayor said that they were doing it properly and soon most communities would be doing it the same way that we were doing it. He stated that newspaper advertising was going the way of the dinosaur. He said that it was just too bad that the newspapers had a problem with it, but it was the way of the future.
He stated that the Municipality's website provides the minutes of all meeting's, the morning after a meeting is held.
It was brought up by Bill that some things are not very clear. They are too vague.
Bruce made a note of that.
He said that when it comes to advertising and announcements, we actually have overkill, with how we inform the public.
He said that everywhere is now moving everything to the web, that we might as well get used to it!!
It was mentioned that this community is made up of many people including many senior's who do not own computer's or can not use one. Therefore they can not access this online information. They rely on the newspapers as a source for their information.
When the Mayor was asked about the swimming pool board and those volunteers, and if there was any truth to the rumor about them being "let go", Bruce very adamantly stated that this was the first that he heard of this new rumor. He then looked at Myron and said that he would have to "look into it". He also said the he doubted that it was any more than an ugly rumor.
We inquired about the ski hill. We were told that chair lifts and a few other things were planned for it to make it more viable and attractive to visitors, as a place to come and ski. Bruce then told us that all of this has been part of a plan that he has been in talks with Teck and Telus about. He said that there are no plans to shut it down.
After that there were a few random comments and then closing remarks by Bill.
He asked that council adhere to our requests or we are asking them to step down and resign from their positions. He said that we were still holding our meeting on Thursday night and will be circulating a petition to get Municipal Affairs to look into our council's spending.
Bruce warned us that we might want to do our homework first, because we may not want to go down that road.
Meeting adjourned at 5:40 p.m.
If I missed anything, I am sorry. I tried to be as thorough as possible.
I can tell you this, I wish I could be inside their heads, and privy to the secret looks that were being shot back and forth between our Mayor and the CAO.