Mayor Nolan Crouse’s final State of the City speech to the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce was far more personal than the ones preceding it, but in telling personal anecdotes he tied them to the direction the city is headed.
“The state of the city remains steady, no boom no bust, persistent growth that has characterized this community for years,” he said. “Stay the course.”
The response from the audience following his speech was overwhelmingly positive, with many choosing to congratulate and thank him for his 10 years of service as mayor rather than asking the pointed questions that are often expected after this type of address.
Speaking to a full house of more than 200 people at the Enjoy Centre the mayor, who has indicated he will not seek election to a fourth term in October, focused on the community building, fiscal accountability and dreams for the future.
Crouse spoke of a phone call he received shortly after the tragic murder of Const. David Wynn from his killer’s mother, who apologized for her son’s actions. He spoke of his regular interactions with a homeless man who was proud to call the woods in St. Albert his home. He spoke of a woman, originally from Florida, who cried after finding out her husband was to be transferred to Texas because despite the weather, she felt St. Albert was the best community to live in in North America.
All of these, he said, are symbols of the kind of community St. Albert has built. He noted council has no small role in building community, with support for the kind of infrastructure that people want to see: a branch library, ice surfaces, aquatics facilities, and even a major sewer line that will help businesses grow.
Likewise he spoke glowingly of the more than 100 not-for-profit groups in the community that help residents in so many ways as being another strong symbol of the kind of community in this city.
“People sometimes need help. People sometimes offer help,” Crouse said. “That is the culture of St. Albert.”
He also spoke of his own experiences growing up relatively poor, and remaining so into his early adult life, when he kept a logbook meticulously tracking his expenses. He drew a parallel to the city’s fiscal record – spending wisely and avoiding too much debt.
For examples, Crouse offered the relatively low tax increases over the past decade, averaging about 2.5 per cent, and a debt-per-capita ratio that’s among the lowest in the province – but noted the exception of “one psychedelic sidewalk painting.”
“Many would like you to believe there’s been reckless spending,” Crouse said. “Council after council has heard loud and clear that we need to do more with less.”
In addressing dreams for the future, he spoke of the dreams Father Lacombe had when establishing the community more than 150 years ago, saying how proud the city’s founder would be at how far it has come.
Crouse paid particular attention to the country’s tragic history in relation to the First Nations, and how projects like the Healing Garden and organizations like the Michif Institute will help to tell that story to future generations. Disaster can be a catalyst for change, he said, which is what he sees happening with the ongoing reconciliation efforts.
“We have a remarkable story to tell, like nowhere else in Alberta,” he said.
As for the future of economic development, Crouse said the city has seen significant growth in non-residential development, shifting the tax burden away from residents, due in no small part to teamwork in pursuit of a common vision and a sometimes “ruthless” approach when needed.
“My approach has been relentless and undaunted,” he said. “That same undaunted, relentless and at times ruthless approach of course at time results in unpopularity, but we must remain proud of the steady growth in this community.”