The recent municipal inspection report presented by George Cuff and Municipal Affairs, as well as the tone of a lot of the debates happening on St. Albert social media, speak to the level of acrimony in St. Albert. It also speaks to the many issues we have to address, and the emotion many people feel about them.
In the midst of all this, it wouldn’t hurt for us to remember all the things we’ve gotten right in St. Albert, things that are worth celebrating.
For one thing, our current council has been diligent in minimizing the annual increases in our municipal property taxes. The City’s annual financial reports show that between 2005 and 2009, property taxes increased an average of 6.6% per year, including a whopping 13.4% increase in 2005. Between 2012 and 2016, taxes increased an average of 1.6% per year, including a mere 0.6% in 2016. Between 2012 and 2016, our municipal per capita debt also decreased from some $932,000 to some $643,000, a decrease of over 30%.
Similarly, council has continually revised its policies to deal with controversies such as the hiring of a sitting member of council to a city job by our former city manager. The new Council Code Of Conduct specifically prohibits councillors from taking a job with the city for up to a year after they leave office. Violations may be subject to review by an independent integrity commissioner, and Council members may be punished with everything from having to make a public apology to having to reimburse money paid.
The city has also taken steps to improve its general management as well. The sitting councillor who was hired to a city job, and the city manager who hired him, no longer work for the city. The city will also be hiring an internal auditor, a longstanding goal of many city councillors. On top of that, I have heard nothing but good things about our new city manager’s performance in his first year on the job.
Finally, there is the basic functionality of council itself. Despite his criticisms of the acrimony of council, and the actions of several council members, George Cuff noted in his public presentation on September 5 that, despite its “lack of collegiality”, council continued to move its agenda forward, and make many important decisions. Some council members themselves have also mentioned to me how, despite any acrimony during debates, they get on quite well with one another outside of council business.
Many of the candidates for our next council have also spoken about the need to work respectfully with one another. Assuming they live up to their promises, the members of our next council will have a good framework to build on over the next few years.
And it is a good framework. MoneySense magazine reports that St. Albert is the best place to live in Alberta, and the seventh-best place overall in Canada.
Whatever problems St. Albert might have, we also have much to celebrate.
Jared Milne is a St. Albert resident with a passion for Canadian history and politics.