Sign companies wade into St. Albert election
Some sign firms offering reduced rates to candidates they feel will be friendly to their cause
| Posted: Saturday, Oct 12, 2013 06:00 am
A group of portable sign companies is trying to influence the results of St. Albert’s civic election by supporting candidates it views as potentially sympathetic to its concerns about rising fees.
“We’re supporting candidates that are open to hear our concerns,” said Harmen Pogge, the president of the Alberta Portable Signs Association.
A group of about eight portable sign companies are working together, Pogge said. Some of those are renting signs to candidates, while others just support the group’s goals in theory.
“We’ll just say we’re offering our product at a reduced rate,” Pogge said.
The companies are getting involved in St. Albert’s municipal election because of increasing portable sign fees, which are high compared to other nearby municipalities, Pogge said.
Unlike other municipalities like Edmonton, Spruce Grove and Strathcona County, St. Albert hasn’t sought input from the group or allowed it to speak beyond appearing at a public hearing, Pogge said.
“They do not work with us,” he said, noting he finds it hypocritical that the city sometimes uses portable signs for its work while council increases the fees.
Development permit fees for portable signs for 90 days were $206 in St. Albert for 2013 and those fees are set to go up nine per cent in 2014. The fee was $50 in 2008, doubled to $100 in 2009, and went up to $200 in 2012.
For 2013, development permit fees for portable signs in Edmonton were $82 for 90 days and $245 for 365 days when the signs are on private property.
In Spruce Grove, the fees are $25 for the first 30 days and $13.90 for each 30-day period following. In Strathcona County, the fee is $125 per sign for up to three months, $175 for six months and $250 for 12 months.
“(St. Albert’s) out to lunch when compared to every jurisdiction out there,” Pogge said. “We’re just the voice of small business. We’re just trying to say how unfair it is.”
He said it seems the current council would like to eliminate portable signs completely. Complaints about portable signs tend to be exaggerated, he said.
For many small business owners, portable signs offer advertising they can afford, he said. The group of companies working together did not handpick any candidates, Pogge said, instead letting candidates come to them.
Pogge is also the owner of Effective Signs and Graphics, which is renting a number of signs to candidates in St. Albert. Pogge said the idea initially came from Greg Pawlechko of Sign Guru.
The Sign Guru has a website under the name Edmonton Signs and Banners. On that website, it says the company is “looking to support pro-business candidates in the 2013 civic election. St. Albert is in desperate need of a new mayor and council that can put business first rather than their own agenda. St. Albert is not only the most expense (sic) place to live in Alberta it is the most expensive place to do business. If you are running for council and are business friendly, we ask that you give us a call to see how we can support your candidacy.”
The support offered depends on the candidate, said Pawlechko, who wouldn’t provide further details on what support they were providing or for which candidates.
“We’re doing everything we can to get better people elected,” Pawlechko said.
An Edmonton resident, he suggested St. Albert needs “more well-rounded” councillors that are experienced in small business.
Pawlechko echoed the concerns brought forward by Pogge, about the escalating fees and the seeming desire to get portable signs out of St. Albert entirely.
Incumbent mayor Nolan Crouse put forward the motion to increase development permit fees for portable signs in 2014 nine per cent, differentiating between permanent and portable signs.
“I hear two stories,” Crouse said. He hears from residents who don’t own businesses they think “we’re just too cluttery with portable signs,” but from business owners he hears the signs are an important part of gaining attention.
“We haven’t taken a stand on anything in terms of eliminating (portable signs). Our fees are probably higher than average in the region based on how we moved them up the last couple years,” Crouse said.
His motion was to encourage businesses to use permanent signs instead of portable ones. If they did want to eliminate portable signs entirely, the way to do that would be through a bylaw instead of fees, Crouse said.
Mayoral challenger Shelley Biermanski said the signs are part of small businesses’ attempts to gain business.
“It’s another cash cow,” she said of the fees.
She would like to see the fees be less punishing.
“I think a lot of businesses depend on (the signs),” Biermanski said. She said while she believes there are some different opinions on what the signs should look like, that could be a visual assessment that’s worked on with businesses, instead of raising fees.
Returning officer for the election and chief legislative officer for the City of St. Albert Chris Belke said all contributions – including discounts offered in support of a campaign – need to be reported as part of candidates’ financial disclosure.
“If it’s a discount that’s given to them as support to the campaign, not if it’s a sale price that anybody gets walking in the door,” Belke said. “Candidates are required to record and report all contributions to their campaign, and that’s not just monetary contributions.”