Forum sheds light
| Posted: Saturday, Oct 12, 2013 06:00 am
Platitudes flew, chinks in the armour became visible, and some common sense was displayed during Thursday’s city council candidates’ forum at the Arden Theatre.
The issue of taxes, unsurprisingly, dominated the St. Albert Taxpayers Association-sponsored forum, and candidates ranged from knowledgeable to unrealistic to indecipherable on the subject.
Council candidate Bob Russell was a standout all night, and he was particularly strong when he talked about the fiscal direction the city needs to take. He said the city’s administrative growth has outstripped the city’s population growth, and he hammered away at the city’s utility rates, which he cited have grown 24 per cent in the last 2.5 years.
Russell offered solutions, which included zero-based budgeting and the elimination of “huge” salary increases for some city staff. He also noted that the city’s reserve accounts are typically “piggy banks” for administration, and that any excess should come back to ratepayers in the form of a tax reduction.
Candidate David Climenhaga also came across as well spoken and reasoned and said there needs to be a balance between taxes and services. He said the city needs to exercise fiscal prudence and use common sense to do it.
Council candidate Norm Harley spoke passionately about the need to rein in city spending, but some of his ideas are questionable. For example, he called for the elimination of two entire city departments. Candidate Ted Durham doesn’t want to see taxes increase at all next year, and Roger Bradley indicated the city should operate in a debt-free environment. Both notions are unrealistic.
Then there were those who offered platitudes, and laced their responses with words and phrases like “collaboration,” “community engagement,” and “communication” to make their case. Gilles Prefontaine spoke of “outcomes” and “achievable goals,” and added the community needs to be involved in the decision-making process.
Hughena Burke and Gareth Jones were not factors in the forum, remaining virtually silent throughout the three-hour affair.
When the issue turned to utility rates, Sheena Hughes took centre stage and said it’s the reason she’s running for council. She said if the provincial Municipal Sustainability Initiative is redirected from utilities (which incumbent Cathy Heron floated during the debate), it will cause a 39.7 per cent increase in utility rates. Hughes added council should have fixed it last spring when it received a consultant’s report.
In a did-he-really-say-that? moment, incumbent Malcolm Parker said council wanted to wait until after the election to make a decision on utility rates because it is a complex issue and the new council needs to understand it. This is really doublespeak for, “We can’t raise the rates in an election year.”
When St. Albertans went to the polls in 2010, they elected councillors to a three-year term, not two-and-a-half. To say the current council dropped the ball on the utility rate matter is an understatement.
Round two goes Tuesday night at the St. Albert & District Chamber of Commerce-sponsored forum at the St. Albert Inn. It’ll be a chance for some candidates to improve their performance. For others it will be a chance to try and elbow their way into the race.