Thursday, 31 January 2008

Good things in Crowsnest Pass

Pictured is Pass Powderkeg our most visible community recreational facility. For decades this little hill has provided countless hours of recreational fun for children and adults and is only one of the affordable community facilities that make Crowsnest Pass a great place to raise a family.

Crowsnest Pass has two hockey arenas. The Sports complex in Coleman which also has a curling rink and the Albert Stella arena in Blairmore. The curling rink attached to that arena has been converted into a skate board park and climbing wall. With these two arenas we have no shortage of ice time in the Pass. A Calgary bantam team hosted a hockey tournament here last year with all teams coming from outside of the Pass. I was told that even with having to stay in hotels and eating out it was still cheaper for them to come here and play than if they could have gotten ice in Calgary. Which they couldn't.

Community centres are a very important element of any town. They are the places where people come together and celebrate the important events in their lives. They are the places people come together and mourn their losses. They are the places that define who we are as a community. Again Crowsnest Pass has two. Crowsnest Centre was the Pass's old hospital that was taken over by the town and converted into a unique community centre. The centre houses our food bank. It is a home for an adult educational and extended learning facility, the Chinook educational Consortium. It provides a very attractive and friendly banquet and meeting hall complete with food service provided by a caterer that any hotel would be proud to have working for them. With a number of hotel style rooms the Centre's operation gets much of it’s funding from conferences’, elder hostels, business and government seminars. These rooms and the centre have provided emergency shelter from storms, floods, fires and an extended power outage.

MDM was a school in the town of Bellevue that was taken over by the municipality about 5 years ago and turned into another community centre. MDM houses one of the Pass's Libraries. The other is housed in its own building in Blairmore. Provides office and meeting room space for community organizations and houses our Kids College preschool. MDM has a gym that provides recreation and with an adjoining kitchen also provides a large banquet and entertainment facility.

We do support a swimming pool as well that is operational throughout the summer. On everyone’s wish list is a new indoor pool to replace this one. Somewhere down the road new growth in Crowsnest will make that wish a reality.

Almost since its inception in 1979 Crowsnest Pass suffered with a stagnant economy. Previous councils struggled with the rising costs of providing services to the people of the Pass without the luxury of having a strong industrial or commercial tax base. To add to their problems they had no revenue resulting from new growth. It would have been easy for them to cut costs by shutting facilities or reducing the provision of recreational services. To their credit they did what was necessary to provide good quality community and recreational facilities. They have done a good job. We are now finally starting to see new growth. Why should we think about doing different?

Monday, 28 January 2008

Crowsnest Pass, Specialized Municipality

Council received good news from the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Ray Danyluk. The provincial cabinet passed an order in council granting the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass, Specialized Municipality status. This is the same status granted Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Strathcona County, M.D. of Mackenzie and Jasper. This unique status recognizes the urban rural composite of Crowsnest Pass. We will now be able to join the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties as well as retain our membership in the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association the two largest lobby groups in the province.

Weed control has always been one of our most difficult areas of responsibility. Rural municipalities receive provincial grants to be used for the control of noxious and other weeds. Our municipality has not been eligible for these same grants because of our status as an urban municipality. We have been dependent on the good graces of the MD of Rockyview to help us with funding for weed control in Crowsnest Pass. The municipal district has been good enough to share a small portion of their grant money for weed control with us. With this change in our status to a specialized municipality we will now be eligible to apply for those same grants. This is a very real benefit to our community.

The Honourable Minister, Ray Danyluk, recognized the urgency of our application and is to be commended for his swift action on our behalf. Our mayor, John Irwin, can take the lion's share of credit for this significant change in our municipal status. This approval came about because of what one letter writer in the Pass Promoter last year described as "a junket to rub elbows with Edmonton's elite at the tax payer's expense". Hope the writer will now be happy to know the mayor's "junket" worked out in the best interests of us taxpayers.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Sawback Ridge

The area structure plan passed 2nd reading this week at council. The plan was sent back to administration for some minor amendments regarding road grades widths, and garbage collection. As stated in an earlier post this development will provide 200 units of housing. It will be a combination of single family residential and higher density multi family residential.

There is still opposition to this development from area residents. Many of their concerns (water drainage etc.) will be addressed at the subdivision and development agreement phases of the develoment process. Most arguments however are strictly zoning issues (density). The land was zoned grouped country residential. The owners could well have applied for subdivision and would likely have been granted it based on that zoning. Meaning this land would of only provided a maximum of 12 homes compared to the 200 homes with the new zoning. Again should we allow our Crowsnest Pass to be developed in that fashion we will quickly lose its most precious and scarce resource. Our land. Land that is also needed to sustain healthy large ungulate habitat and to insure good large wildlife corridors for the free movement of elk herds and grizzly bears. Two hundred homes on country residential acreages would require over a section of prime wildlife habitat to accommodate them. Most everyone speaking in opposition to this development seemingly have no objections to growth in Crowsnest Pass. Which then is better? Do we allow the wasteful sprawl of country residential or is it better to concentrate development through higher density?

This debate brings me back to the first post of this blog. "The Pass has suffered with a stagnant economy for the past two decades. Now the municipality is on the verge of seeing some significant growth. Growth, based on the natural beauty, lifestyle, and amenities our community and surrounding area provides. Our challenge, as a community, will be how to accommodate and allow that growth while maintaining and protecting our ecological, historical, and cultural integrity."

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Community Enhancement Fund

The Crowsnest Pass Chamber of Commerce has to be commended for the direction they have taken and the work done to insure Crowsnest Pass becomes an even better place to live, work, play, and of course do business in. The Chamber has long been an ardent advocate of making Crowsnest Pass an attractive destination area. It has always been challenging finding ways to fund projects that are needed to enhance the urban atmosphere desired to compliment our beautiful and wild mountainous landscape. The chamber may have found the vehicle to get us there with the proposed Community Enhancement Fund.

Last night council deliberated on their request to set up a CEF committee funded by a $50 increase in business license fees. While council felt unanimously that such an initiative should not be funded solely by our business community there was sufficient support for the concept raised by the Chamber to pass a motion referring the creation of a CEF to our community development committee. The community development committee will in conjunction with the chamber come forward with a recommendation to council prior to the deadline for next year's budget request.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Hauling Logs in Crowsnest Pass

A local company has timber quotas in the York and Star Creek basins. There is in that area about 15 years worth of logging. Those logs of course do have to get to where they are going to be processed which necessitates the logs being hauled out of that area to the highway by truck.

A couple of years back the company approached the municipality for a road use agreement to use the roads through Willow Drive and West Coleman to haul logs out of the Star Creek area. Council approved that road use agreement much to the dismay of the local residents. After being approached by them with their concerns I talked with a local forestry officer and found out that SRD had stated their preference to the company that the logs be hauled out to the highway westerly to Crowsnest Lake. I brought that information back to council and council changed its position on the road use agreement. The company then used the better route for its log haul.

In 2006 the company was logging in the York Creek area and because of legal wranglings with Luscar was stopped from being able to haul through their mine yard property. A truck or two did end up going right through Bushtown. A local resident informed me of this and the municipality did stop this unapproved route. In discussions with the owner of the company I learned of the basis of the dispute between him and Luscar Coal. I called a friend employed by Luscar and because of his company's commitment to establish good will with the people of Crowsnest Pass he did agree to let the company haul through the property for that year only.

This winter prior to Christmas operational services committee brought a recommendation to council to approve a road use agreement for the same company to haul logs through South West Blairmore past the Seniors lodges and to the highway on the west end of Blairmore. In response to my question regarding alternate routes the committee's response was there was no other way out. Council then unanimously passed my motion that the residents of the area be given the opportunity to state their position on the proposed route.

Last week I was in contact with the buyer of Luscar's property and he agreed that a short term solution (2 - 3 years) could be worked out with the logging company should the company be co-operative. I did talk with the owner of the logging company and it appears there is good potential for the parties to come to an understanding on using the Luscar property for the log haul. I was also told by the logging company that because of the delay in getting a road use agreement he had lost a contract and would not be hauling any logs this winter.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Chamber of Commerce Position

The Chamber of Commerce has sent an email elaborating on the proposed fee increase to business licenses. This email was sent on the 17th of January. Click here to see the Chamber of Commerce's position. The letter does explain their position well. My comments in the earlier blog post were based on the presentation given to council in December and are not inaccurate. The letter does answer the question asked in council regarding the disbursement of funds and accountability.

Poll Results

Well the results are in from the first poll on the blog. Fourty people voted. Twenty voted yes. Twenty voted no. What conclusions can I come to after seeing the results? Keeping in mind of course the results can not be considered accurate to any real degree. The purpose of the poll is to keep the blog interactive.
  1. I could assume the people that voted represent a cross section of our citizens and believe our residents are divided completely on the issue.
  2. I could also assume the people that voted are individual business men or women who would be directly affected by councils decision and again are equally divided on the issue
  3. Just checked my old email account and found a letter emailed from the chamber asking members to go vote in the poll. The timing of the email and all the voting would coincide. All things being equal then I would not be too far wrong in assuming the vote came from chamber members and they are split on the proposal.

Thanks for taking part in this little exercise. This could end up being a useful tool and I will be looking for ways to make it work.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Coleman Tipple Yard

Since 1968 the big green "tipple" has been the dominating feature of downtown Coleman's main street and skyline. For close to 20 years it was the generator of Coleman's and Crowsnest Pass's wealth. For the past twenty years, however, its only role has been to stand silently watching as Main Street Coleman slipped into depression.

No longer serving the role for which it was created the tipple's decline paralleled that of main street. The bright green facade faded. Parts no longer protected from the elements began to rust. Pieces fell or were blown off the structure. Yet still it stands, an inescapable remnant of more prosperous times, an icon of Coleman's past glory.

Many Crowsnest Pass residents look at the once critical component of our economy with disdain. Seeing it as an eyesore, a hazard, an ugly reminder of a black dirty past. Many others look at it as an important component of our mining heritage, a significant piece of our skyline, hope for the future. Their hope was to use the tipple and mine yard once again, this time as an attraction, as the generator to rivitalize the economy of Main Street Coleman. These polarized groups of people have a couple of things in common. They want prosperity for Crowsnest Pass and would love to see Main Street Coleman rejuvenated.

Good news. We all know Luscar has sold the property. The new owner has been meeting with the group working to protect the property and together they have come up with a solution to preserve some of the unique mine buildings on the property. No, the tipple won't be saved from demolition. It would require more capital outlay than anyone can afford to put up. With that, though, this property will retain some of its historic significance and new development on the site will generate the wealth needed to revitalize historic downtown Coleman. Crowsnest Pass and the people that love it win. Good work everyone and goodluck to Mark Kerwin in getting this property developed.

THE TIPPLE (Coleman Collieries preparation plant)The washouse, power house, and machine shop. Plus other buildings...some of this will be protected and restored.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Taxes likely to increase 3%

Well administration came back much quicker than expected with changes to the budget. The big news would be taxes will likely be increased by 3%. That increase will bring in an additional $195,000 in revenue. An expected 3% growth rate will add the same amount to revenue. A combination of small increases to some service fees, funding projects from other sources, deferring some projects until 09, and reducing a number of other budget items brought us to a balanced budget.
The committee of council passed a motion to bring the proposed budget to our next regular council meeting for approval. That motion passed with one dissenter. The proposed budget will not see any major changes in the services the municipality has traditionally provided. Of course we will not be setting the mill rate until April when we will find out what the province wants for school taxes. Additional changes to the budget could take place at that time or when we debate the proposed budget at our next council meeting.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Budget and Business Licenses

Budget deliberations are pretty much at a stand still until the end of January. Council did, however pass an interim budget based on the 2007 budget that will keep us operational until we do pass a new budget. We did make some minor adjustments last night that saved an additional $140,000 or so. That of course still leaves us with over $900,000 to make up for. Council directed administration to take another look and bring back some recommendations for further cuts. We will have to wait until the end of the month to find out from our assessor what increase in revenue based on new growth we will have access to before we can pass this years budget. I believe we will still be looking at tax increases to meet our rising costs.

Just before Christmas the Chamber of Commerce made a presentation to council concerning funding the maintenance of the snowmobile trails and other initiatives to market Crowsnest Pass. The Chamber asked council to raise business license fees from $75 to $125 and give that increase to the Chamber to use for marketing and maintenance of the trails. I should mention here that the municipality has budgeted $10,000 in the past for the purpose of maintenance. I asked the Chamber's representative if they had polled the businesses for their opinion on the proposed increase. The response was they had not. I further queried them as to how they would disperse and account for the money and where exactly it would be allocated to. To which they could not respond. Then I asked the chamber to get the answers to those two questions and made a motion directing administration to bring back to council information on the amount of money that would be raised with such an increase. The purpose was to insure the Chamber's request and all pertinent information would be reported on giving the business community a chance to consider the pros and cons of such a request.

There are many things to consider with this proposal and some questions that have to be answered. Does this proposal have the support of the business community as a whole? Should the Chamber be the disbursing agency and deciding where the money is to be spent? Even if this proposal has the support of the business community should the municipality be the collector of the funds? Businesses would have no option to opt out...licenses would have to be paid. If the business community supports the initiatives the chamber wants to take over why wouldn't they pay the Chamber directly and cut out the middle man (the municipality)?

Any way it is definitely an interesting proposal and we will undoubtedly hear from the businesses. The ones that have contacted me so far do not favour an increase in business licenses for this purpose. Give me a call. Give me your thoughts. Call the Chamber and let them know.

I have just added a poll...take the time to vote.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Holiday is over...back to the budget

Well the Christmas break is over and council met for the first time Wednesday night for our first budget deliberations since Nov. 25. We started out with a proposed budget that was over 1.4 million than last years. In our first meeting we cut close to 300,000. Biggest cut being over 200,000 to finish a third ball diamond in the Hillcrest area. Main reason being as we have not yet determined the risk factor of Turtle falling again. No, we don't anticipate it falling anyday soon. The province has very sophisticated monitoring in place and have provided council with reports of the mountain's instability and probable slide run out zones. Our ball diamonds, as well as other private property, are in the potential slide area. The monitoring in place will give us weeks of advance warning unless a slide is triggered by an earthquake.

This past meeting we went over some small cost centres as our chief financial officer and public works superintendent were unable to attend. Still we were able to trim another 150,000 or so from some wish lists. We also agreed to increase development permits $2 from 4 to $6 per $1,000 worth of construction costs. The only real big cost centre we have to look at is Public Works. I doubt very much we will be able to cut a million from their budget so we could very well be looking at tax increases in this year's budget. Happy New Year!