Three Issues for City Council

by David Biltek

Todays post is from an old friend, Joe Calenda. Joe used to be a planner in Grande Prairie some years ago. He left and pursued a career in Municipal Administration in several communities in BC. He is now retired but still does some consulting to Municipalities and developers. He lives in Victoria.

I don’t know what the right question(s) is for the mayoralty or council candidates. There are however three issues that council should address if they wish to grow a healthy and sustainable city.

Issue one is economic sustainability at the city level. That is the ability for the municipality to deliver all the services, works and programs every year at a zero or minimal tax increase. And I mean ‘municipal tax’ increase not budget increase per se. There will almost always be a budget increase. That doesn’t necessarily mean a municipal tax increase. And minimal means no greater that the consumer price index, cost of living or other similar measure. Think carefully about this definition as it applies to the municipal level, the city level. I have. Long and hard.
This is much more than a numbers game. Council must, in every budget year, take a careful and calculated look at the services, works and programs they ought to be providing to the citizens; and then provide them.
The only way for a community to become economically sustainable is to acquire tax base assessment profit centres; typically medium or higher density residential development and of course commercial and industrial development. This type of development provides exponentially higher returns to the city. Unlike single family development, this development actually pays for itself and more.
This type of development takes very careful planning particularly in design. Land use or density is hardly ever the real issue with higher density development. Density on a site either works or it doesn’t. Simple! Design is almost always the issue. Pay attention to that and Grande Prairie will get a profitable tax base and good, well planned, value added development.
This is a beautiful and elegant strategy. It can work and it can save the city!
Sustainable community actually means something concrete and specific. And that includes economic sustainability which also means something concrete and specific and is attainable with the right tax base assessment development strategy. There is no sustainable community without economic sustainability. Its not enough to talk about and plan for environmental responsibility in development and social justice and equity in housing at the municipal level. Tax base is where its at! It’s a critical part of the community sustainability formula.
Issue two is downtown redevelopment. Yup still an issue! We just haven’t got it solved – yet. Its so important for this northern regional centre, this winter city, to have a strong, bustling and profitable core.
Issue three is infill development. This is particularly important in the residential neighbourhoods surrounding the downtown core; including and especially VLA and Avondale. This is where you can get your population growth to support a redeveloped downtown. And this is where you can get neighbourhood revitalization and reinvestment. Of course this type of redevelopment takes very careful planning. Once again, location or density is not an issue as much as design. Pay attention to that.

I lived and worked in Grande Prairie from 1980 to 1993. I still own property in the city, pay taxes and want the city to be healthy and become economically sustainable; as soon as it can. I like this city. It still can be “the greatest place to be” Not there yet I’m afraid. There is no pride in being the city in Alberta with the highest taxes. But I’m still hanging in there.
I guess we will all see what the questions will be over the next few weeks. Good luck everybody. Please be careful with our city’s future. Ciao for now.