Councillors deal with election issues
Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 06:00 am
Hot topics from the election were on the agenda during council’s recent committee of the whole meeting.
On Jan. 24, St. Albert city council got a chance to get an in-depth orientation and discussion session on topics like utility models, traffic safety, infrastructure condition, public engagement and municipal planning commissions.
“It’s the first time we’ve called a committee of the whole like this,” Mayor Nolan Crouse said as council got started. Couns. Wes Brodhead, Cathy Heron, Gilles Prefontaine and Tim Osborne were in attendance along with a number of senior-level city staff.
Municipal planning commission
Director of planning and development Carol Bergum offered a brief history of the municipal planning commission in St. Albert, which was dissolved in 2008 after a few years of inactivity.
The city adopted new practices to improve efficiency, Bergum said.
“One of the really noticeable differences has been the reduced processing time,” she said.
Public consultation has never been the role of the MPC in St. Albert, she said. Scrapping it meant less duplication of public involvement because then those wishing to speak didn’t have to go to both the MPC and council meetings.
A resurrected MPC could fill one of two potential roles. The first role, Bergum said, is the actual decision making, and the second is an advisory role.
The advisory role would generally be at the level of an area structure plan, not at the development level where there are more often contentious issues, she said.
If council’s considering restarting the MPC, they will have to decide what they’re trying to accomplish with it, she suggested.
While council’s committee of the whole didn’t make any motions on the topic, they did give it some discussion.
“The perception (is) that the MPC is going to fix something and what, we just can’t get our hand on what needs to be fixed,” Crouse said.
Osborne said it seems to him the desire for an MPC is synonymous with the public wanting more input into the decisions.
With some decisions due to occur on St. Albert’s utility fiscal policy, council got a lesson on the current city practices.
The current model is on a cash-needs basis, they were told. Long-term debt can be considered on for rehabilitation of an existing major infrastructure item. Cash reserves need to be built up for new infrastructure.
Often called the 100-year model, Brodhead pointed out the model is not well-understood by the community.
“We should abandon that term,” he said. “People are thinking that they’re paying for something 100 years in advance.”
Crouse meanwhile asked for staff to compile numbers so they could see what a utility bill would be for a resident if the city moved to funding 100 per cent of the projects 100 per cent through rates, rather than using grant money to offset some of the costs.
During discussions on bills, city manager Patrick Draper suggested the bills could be clearer on what the money is going towards.
The current model is not enshrined in policy and that’s a discussion council will be having in the coming months.
“Ultimately someday we’re going to have to take a policy position,” Crouse said.
Director of engineering Tracy Allen and policing services manager Aaron Giesbrecht teamed up to present on traffic safety and the newly-minted traffic safety committee.
“We’ve recently formalized the practice of collaborating,” Giesbrecht said.
After the presentation, discussion led to the issue of photo radar, as Crouse observed some nearby communities seem to be moving towards getting rid of a photo enforcement program.
Council got an orientation on the tools and methods used in traffic enforcement in St. Albert, as well as the engineering standards used to determine if and when new traffic signals are warranted.
Recommendations regarding public engagement practices will be coming to council in April for their consideration, courtesy of the city’s continuous improvement project.
Bergum highlighted the work already done, which involved determining levels of engagement and a policy that will work for all city departments.
The levels went from informing the public to consulting them, to involving them, to collaborating with them and finally to partnering with the public for the purpose of decision making.
Bergum said before engaging in each round of public consultation, the level and tools that are required should be considered. Templates are being developed by city staff to help.
Council also got a run-down on the condition of various city infrastructure.
“The main goal is to give you very good analytics for your decision making,” said infrastructure manager Eduardo Sosa.
For the most part, much of St. Albert’s infrastructure was in good or fair condition.
Sosa said they are working on an asset management framework, something it’s possible will become mandatory in Alberta.