As St. Albert enters the final weeks of its election, the Gazette sat down with each of the city’s mayoral candidates to take a deeper look at their platforms and how to manage the city’s financial situation.
Topping Heron’s list of priorities are regional collaboration, traffic and safety, economic development and leadership.
Rather than advocating for specific changes to the way the city operates, Heron wants to see the city continue to advance initiatives it has already been focusing on, such as signal optimization for stoplights on St. Albert Trail – something that’s part of her push toward a Smart City focus.
“Right now, our staff are working with NAIT and the Smart City Alliance in trying to develop the algorithms,” she said.
She wants to see the city pursue a $10-million federal grant to help make the Smart City dream a reality.
“I’m very confident, just because St. Albert is so well-recognized for Smart Cities, we’d be a shoo-in,” she said.
As for regional co-operation, Heron says the city should embrace collaboration instead of worrying about a loss of autonomy.
“The advantages of working together far outweigh the disadvantages,” she said.
“I want to sit at the table. I see huge value in working with other municipalities.”
She points to initiatives such as an amalgamation of St. Albert and Edmonton’s transit as one example of value: with a larger municipality putting in a larger share of the cost, St. Albert benefits more than it would if it were on its own.
She also sees a need for the city to support green spaces, arts and culture and recreation.
As far as economic development goes, Heron says the city needs to cultivate a good relationship with the St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce beyond what it currently does.
“I think as a councillor and mayor, we need to understand what the business community wants,” she said.
That means striking a delicate balance with the tax burden, without shifting it too far onto the shoulders of businesses.
“Right now, we have a good mill rate – lower than Edmonton – for businesses, but if they need other things, like better utilities and stuff we need to be open to saying yes before we say no,” she said.
Whereas other mayoral candidates have set goals for residential tax levels they hope to target, Heron says she has no specific targets other than keeping increases below cost of living.
“What I do want to do is sit with council and decide what our tolerance levels are,” she said.
“The best target you can have as a city is steady, reliable, predictable tax increases.”
As for projected capital deficits related to the city’s 10-year capital plan, Heron believes council needs to rely on staff when looking at how to manage that deficit.
Repair, maintenance and replacement should take priority over growth, she says.
MacKay broke his platform down into a 50-point plan to bolster the city’s economic development and turn council’s eye toward helping and empowering residents.
Integral to his plan is the creation of an economic development corporation, which would replace the City of St. Albert’s economic development department.
MacKay says his hope for that is to remove the municipal lens for economic development employees, which could lead to more objective feedback.
He also wants to see a feasibility study done for a zero-waste light industrial park, which he says could give St. Albert a competitive advantage over other municipalities in the capital region when it comes to attracting industry. He points to Fort McMurray as an example of where such an initiative has happened.
“If you’re providing the raw materials a business can use – let’s say you’re taking glass and turning it into sand for sandblasting – that gives us a bit of an edge over everyone else,” he said.
He wants to push the city to hand over some power to residents by creating neighbourhood organizations reminiscent of community leagues, which could handle subjects such as Neighbourhood Watch. He would also like to see St. Albert establish a charitable entity for neighbourhood projects, depending on what neighbourhoods think they need most.
“There’s two ways to finance something: I tax you … and invest in your neighbourhood, or you donate $500 and get a $150 tax receipt from the federal government. You’ve got a little bit more money in your pocket and we’ve achieved the same goal,” he said.
“This would be a way to finance local infrastructure and do things we might otherwise not have the money to do.”
On the subject of taxes, MacKay wants to target a 1.5 per cent tax increase for the second, third and fourth years of his term, and a 2.5 per cent increase for the first year, which he believes will help attract residents and businesses.
As far as spending, MacKay says the next council will have to take a hard look at its capital plan.
“We’ve got to say no to some things,” he said.
He wants to remove $30 million from the Downtown Area Redevelopment Plan, effectively putting the plan on hold. $10 million of that would go toward a residential area redevelopment program focused on neighbourhoods, while the rest would go toward reducing the city’s looming capital deficit.
He also wants to remove MSI funding of just under $5 million per year from the capital budget and put it toward offsetting the cost of utilities.
Parker’s platform hinges on a straightforward approach: “If we can’t afford to do it, we don’t do it,” he says.
He wants to aim for a zero per cent tax increase in the third and possibly the fourth year of his term.
That means close consideration of any proposed capital projects.
“It’s very basic: you look at what the projects are, you look at them in terms of what they are going to cost, what the business plans are and that’s the key to the whole thing,” he said.
The same goes for the city’s operating budget.
“I try to look at each expense line and understand why it is,” he said.
Tied to fiscal frugality is Parker’s desire to see less of a reliance on consultants and more of a reliance on city staff.
“Hopefully we have competent people we’ve hired who can do some of (the consulting work). I’m not against consultants … I just think we can be more effectively efficient without it,” he said.
Economic growth is one of Parker’s major priorities. That means supporting a strong small business community and focusing on the Lakeview Business District.
The key challenge there, he says, is attracting businesses to a location that currently lacks services such as sewer.
Part of Parker’s plan also focuses on addressing a shortage of medical professionals.
He wants to bring back to the council table a proposal for the city to help establish a holistic medical building by leasing space in the building, something he was advocating for when he was a councillor from 2010 to 2013.
“The concept of this building was not just for doctors, but to have physicians there, have all related medical services – a lab, chiropractors, maybe a pharmacy, a CT scan place – so it’s one-stop shopping,” he said.
He also wants to establish a co-operative working relationship with nearby municipalities, such as Sturgeon County, Parkland County and Edmonton.
He points to regional collaboration as something that could help bring to fruition projects such as recreational amenities.
“There’s real synergies in doing that from a cost perspective,” he said, noting regional collaboration has been key for the city’s annexation agreement with Sturgeon County.
Aside from cultivating regional relationships, Parker wants to see professional relationships cultivated closer to home as well.
He plans to review and implement recommendations from George Cuff’s municipal inspection report and has taken a good conduct pledge, which involves respectful dialogue, consideration of council members’ ideas and dignified treatment of city employees.
“This pledge is to show I’m putting my money where my mouth is,” he said.