What are the election issues?
By: Ken Allred
| Posted: Wednesday, Aug 14, 2013 06:00 am
With a little over a month to nomination day, it is encouraging that a few city council candidates have thrown their hats in the ring, yet we haven’t seen much specific talk about the issues that are concerning the St. Albert electorate.
Sure there has been some talk about expansion of Servus Credit Union Place and the $500,000 LRT study but not much else. The LRT study would appear to be a non-issue considering that it could possibly have avoided the expensive land purchase for LRT land adjacent to Ray Gibbon Drive and is almost a necessity before the city proceeds with the $35 million transit terminal at Campbell Road and St. Albert Trail.
The Election Action Committee is a new addition to the St. Albert campaign. It appears however, to be set up solely to attack the incumbent mayor, Nolan Crouse.
So what are the issues that concern St. Albertans?
Taxes are always an issue. There has certainly been a steady increase in taxes over the past 10 to 15 years plus a concerted effort by the city to shift utility charges from the tax base to utility bills which has resulted in even more significant increases in utility billing. Certainly the user pay concept is the fairest form of cost recovery, however the shift of a cost from the tax bill to the utility bill should in theory result in a cost reduction on the tax bill. This does not appear to be the case, as both seem to increase every year even when you factor in inflation.
The move towards an 80/20 residential/non-residential tax split has been an issue in every election since time immemorial. What progress has been made towards increasing the industrial and commercial share of the tax assessment?
The expansion of city administration and the resulting need for additional accommodation must be seen as a concern. We now have city administration spread all over St. Albert – in St. Albert Place, the Tourist Information Centre, the old CIBC building at the corner of St. Anne and Sir Winston Churchill, the old TransAlta offices on Bellerose, not to speak of staff in the numerous recreation and protective services facilities.
One has to ask why it is necessary to maintain the west end of the lower floor of St. Albert Place for the arts and crafts groups. Is it necessary to have this facility located in prime downtown real estate? Would it not be better off outside of the downtown core where parking and rent is cheaper? It would seem to be more logical to use this space for core administrative services than to move administrative staff to these new facilities.
While it may be a political hot potato it may be time to look closely at the development of a single administrative building across from St. Albert Place as proposed in the downtown area redevelopment plan. Would it not make more sense to concentrate the civic administration in one area near St. Albert Place? Perhaps not, it may be cheaper to spread them around in the outlying areas where costs are cheaper.
Hopefully candidates will come forth in the next six weeks with some innovative ideas that appeal to St. Albert taxpayers. We need a good mix of forward-thinking candidates as well as some good old-fashioned stewardship. In any event we need to have some interesting and constructive debate!
Ken Allred is a former St. Albert alderman and MLA.