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Affordable utility rates, improving fiscal responsibility added as council priorities

Amendments from June meeting and Monday night to be incorporated into council goals and priorities document

By: Victoria Paterson

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jul 16, 2014 06:00 am

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St. Albert city council added a few last minute tweaks to its goals and priorities policy on Monday night.

After approving amendments incorporated after a committee of the whole meeting in June, council tackled an additional four motions.

Coun. Sheena Hughes had suggested an amendment to add language so the city’s priority is to become a leader in accountability and transparency and to amend the goal so it reads “improve fiscal responsibility and transparency.”

Hughes pointed out several other priorities use language suggesting the city should strive to become a leader in various areas.

She noted people don’t seem to trust any level of government.

The amendment was passed in a 5-2 vote, with Couns. Tim Osborne and Gilles Prefontaine voting against it.

Next up was Mayor Nolan Crouse’s motion, which would have revised the policy to include references to various approved motions and agreements that are forthcoming in the remainder of council’s term, like the proposed drainage bylaw, transportation master plan updates and others.

“I’m not suggesting we go and fill every page with all the priorities we have,” Crouse said. But he felt this one needed some extra detail.

Osborne said his concern is that the goals and priorities document is meant to be high level, and not list everything they’re involved with.

“My concern is this motion is a bit grey in terms of where the line gets drawn,” he said.

The amendment was defeated in a 2-5 vote with Crouse and Coun. Wes Brodhead voting in favour of the motion.

Hughes had a second motion on the floor to amend the policy to include a priority for the city to “strive to have the most affordable utility rates in the capital region.”

Council and staff wanted to know what affordable meant, and Hughes said she meant the lowest cost for the services being received.

“It’s sort of a motherhood and apple pie motion,” Brodhead said.

Hughes said the priority was a goal, not an absolute and she wants residents to know council’s committed to keeping rates affordable.

“We’re also in direct competition with all the other municipalities in the capital region,” she said of attracting residents and industry to St. Albert.

Osborne said the best way council can send a message to the community is to actually do things, not just add sentences in their priorities document.

Osborne did note the city’s not been raising rates according to the projected needs.

“We’ve been collecting less than is actually required to maintain our utilities,” Osborne said.

Coun. Cathy Heron was worried about the impact of the motion. She also suggested comparing St. Albert to all the other municipalities in the capital region might not be looking at apples to apples.

“Although this motion looks great … I’m really worried about the ramifications,” she said.

Prefontaine said he agreed with the priority, though ended up apologizing after asking if it would be “thrown in our face” during utility-related discussions in September.

MacKay called affordable utility rates part of St. Albert’s brand.

Hughes said this was not a direction for administration.

The amendment passed 4-3 with Brodhead, Heron and Crouse voting against it.

The final potential amendment council considered was a suggestion from MacKay to include experimenting with direct democracy tools as a priority.

MacKay noted direct democracy was inspired by Athens in ancient Greece where all citizens could vote on decisions.

Council unanimously voted to postpone discussion of the motion until late January 2015 for some research to be done on what modern direct democracy could entail.


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