This is a question my office gets from time to time, usually around budget discussions or the tax deadline. While this information is public and does not appear to be intentionally hidden, it is difficult to navigate through the City website to find all of the information. Recently, I asked Financial and Corporate services what our annual debenture payments are. While it took longer than I had expected, I am glad they took the extra time to include the additional information. After expressing my appreciation for the information and my frustration that this is not easily accessible to the public, I decided to share the document myself – with their permission of course. Thank you to Financial and Corporate Services for this stellar document to help understand debenture payments.
You may have been watching what has been discussed at City Council meetings recently and wondered, “Why are they talking about THAT?” Lowering speed limits throughout the city, building bike lanes on some of our busiest streets, building a gondola – who comes up with these ideas? And why do they merit Council’s immediate and constant attention.
In the hundreds of emails I receive from constituents each month (both from within Ward 11 and from other areas of the city), I only hear about these issues in the context of being issues that City Council should not be spending time discussing. The concerns I hear are more basic: Why are my property taxes so high? When are this winter’s new crop of potholes going to be fixed? Why isn’t the LRT running properly yet? At the root of these concerns is a common issue – inefficiency and poor stewardship of your tax dollars. It’s an issue we – City Council – need to fix. But these concerns are often brushed aside in council meetings, or “tabled” to be discussed for another day.
It feels as though the rest of council has forgotten why we’re in those seats. An election is meant to test a political candidate and then hold them accountable to promises and commitments. And at its most basic, a politician is obligated to listen to their constituents.
I find it difficult to believe that the rest of council is listening to you – individual citizens – as opposed to various special interest groups. That basic political obligation, where has it gone? Was it ever there to begin with? I wish I could give you an answer.
There is one thing I can say with confidence, though. The people driving this nonsensical agenda in City Council are not going to stop any time soon. Not unless a group of determined and passionate citizens stand up to them.
The recently released employment engagement survey results for the City of Edmonton showed more than half of City employees have little to no confidence in our senior management to deliver on our civic goals.
In an effort to delve behind this figure and other alarming numbers in the survey, I pushed to have a full public discussion of these numbers and their consequences. I felt that letting other organizations and individuals, such as past employees and our union leaders, discuss these results would help City Council understand the story behind the numbers. Unfortunately, my motion was defeated by Council in a 6-7 vote.
What is at issue here is that our senior management is broken and the numbers show it (in my opinion even after being thoroughly massaged by Administration). The result of my defeated motion, in effect, was that given we have a problem with senior management, Council said, “Let’s throw this back to them to fix!” What was that definition of insanity again? Once more, it appears to me that most of my colleagues on Council are not interested in tackling the bad news. Instead, they demonstrated again that they are content to push the most important problem our civic corporation faces – the effective and efficient management of this multibillion dollar corporation – back under the carpet. Hoping for what? I am not sure.
The accounts shared with me by front-line employees who tell of gross waste, mismanagement and negligence within the City are beyond sad. But we have a leadership team who either has no interest or the ability to fix our most pressing problems. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the reports from our City Auditor for the last five years and you can draw your own conclusions.
The City of Edmonton is broken and we seem to have a majority on Council who don’t want you to see it. It is clear as day to me where the problem lies… what about you?
Speaking to a senior business leader recently, we both came to the conclusion that we
are in the worst economic recession of our professional lives. The wholesale departure
and destruction of our city’s economic capacity, both in regards to our business
community and the pressures on the individual ratepayer, is in my opinion, historical in
its tragedy. If you accept this premise, like me, you would be looking to our civic political
leaders to act responsibly when it comes to budgeting.
It is important to note that your property tax increases are driven by what we spend. If
we wish to lower the tax pressures on you personally and make Edmonton a more
attractive place to do business, the formula is simple: control spending! Spend on what
is absolutely needed now but push off what can wait. You and I do this every day; this is
how we stay afloat given we can’t go back to our bosses or customers to ask for more
money because we know times are tough for everyone. Everyone, that is, but City
Council. It is tragic that Council talks about the tough times but does little to
demonstrate any kind of restraint. In a span of 72 hours, Council voted to spend over $612 million on new capital, everything from a new recreation center to putting more
money into planning new streetscapes. These projects are all important but, in light of
this economy, just not today.
What shocked me most is when individuals and business leaders came to plead for
restraint, some members of Council asked them where to cut, then argued that their
suggestions were misguided. This is a prime example of political leaders listening to
respond, instead of listening to understand. To be blunt, we should not be asking the
individual ratepayer how to balance the books because it isn’t your job. You don’t sit
downtown day in day and day out and follow the nebulous budgets of our departments
– that is Council’s job, and we are paid well to do so.
The City is broken. The direction of this City is clearly wrong. The time has come to hold
our elected officials accountable and have them move beyond being Edmonton’s social
planning council to being Edmonton’s City Council. I will not be supporting this budget
and neither should you. Honestly we can do better.
One of the primary services available to all citizens in Edmonton is public transit. With a budget over $358 million dollars and more than 2000 employees, if Edmonton Transit is not considered an essential service it is certainly core to the City of Edmonton’s business operations. Operating at an annual deficit in 2017 of $220 million it is clear to say that Edmonton Transit is not a “break even” business and never will be. The City operates Transit at loss, “Why?”- Because it delivers a number of economic and social benefit. Without a good public transit system citizens and businesses both locally and regionally would suffer.
In July of 2017 Urban Planning Committee and subsequently Council passed a new bus network redesign initiative to better rationalize out the service routes. I argued at the time that it would be better to take a piece of the City and test out our model assumptions before rolling it out on to the entire city so we could keep service disruptions to a minimum. However I was voted down. Much like infill, playground speeds zones and calcium chloride I thought it was better to test things out before plastering the entire city with a one size fits all approach…at least that is what businesses in the real world tend to do.
Instead now we have a bus network redesign on first review that calls for reductions in stops, a decrease in accessibility with no clear measure(s) to its performance. To get a better understanding on the route changes I requested my staff to actually map out the proposed route changes as administration did not provide my office with any such graphic. The glaring service reductions became readily apparent – more frequency on our major bus routes for more money and less service in our neighborhoods – that is what I can see.
If you use public transit and more importantly need public transit to travel to and from work or essential services, you need to pay attention to this re-design. Please follow my link to what we have mapped out for the proposed route changes; I need your feedback now more than ever to make sure no one is left out in cold.
In recent weeks, several City administrative decisions have left many of us scratching our heads.
First, there was the whole fiasco around the memorial benches. Deciding to charge past purchasers for ongoing maintenance was insensitive and made no sense … further to that, removing the plaques off the benches was just ridiculous. Second was the seemingly sudden eviction of the Heritage Day Festival organization from a much-needed storage facility in Hawrelak Park. Heritage Days is one of the largest and most anticipated summer festivals in Edmonton, so creating stress and undue hardship for this organization is unacceptable.
These are just two examples of hasty decisions made from Administration and it makes me wonder how they plan to deal with issues in the future. In particular, my concern is how they plan to deal with the upcoming bus network re-design, which in my opinion is going to provide inadequate service to many areas throughout our city.
Unfortunately, these types of administrative/public disconnects are not uncommon. Our office deals with them on a weekly, if not daily, basis. In theory, Council’s job is to make sure these do not occur and we struggle with why they happen in the first place. We need administration to slow down and explain their reasoning. This way they get a fair shot at defending their actions and if their reasoning had merit or not, and if not – we can try and fix it.
So what is new here?
First, the scope and scale of these missteps has dramatically increased in the last five years – from the execution of the Metro Line to the most recent issues mentioned above. I have spoken many times about problems we are having “under the deck” with our civic administration; asking why we are in a perpetual state of re-organization, why we can’t seem to keep our recent hires in key senior administrative positions or why I still can’t get an organizational chart of our administration?
In the end, these questions are not just about administrative management, but are about the political management of that very same administration. I have always landed on the practical day to day side and worked on fixing those very same administrative systems your tax dollars are paying for.
In saying that, perhaps it’s time to pass on the Gondola?
I have received a great number of phone calls and emails from my constituents that are voicing their concerns over the lack of common sense the City has applied to playground zones. In an effort to rationalize out a workable solution we have been able to do the following:
At the May 8, 2018 City Council meeting, a 5 part motion was passed. The first part of that motion is as follows:
“1. That Administration provide a report that brings back bylaw amendments to remove the playground zones from the listed locations in Attachment 2 of the April 18, 2018, City Operations report report CR_5352 and add or subtract any other locations identified by Councillors for and in their wards, and come back to a Non-Statutory Public Hearing at Committee”
You can view Attachment 2 here. There were 40 locations listed. Based on the significant number of concerns that have brought to my attention, I have reviewed and requested that Playground Zones be removed from the following locations:
Mill Woods Road: 38 Ave – 91 St (In front of Mill Woods Christian School). Rationale: Fenced, equipment has large set back from road.
38 Ave: 76 St – Mill Woods Road (In Front of St. Hilda). Rationale: Sports field is behind the school.
76 St: 38 Ave – Millbourne Road E/W (Michaels Park). Rationale: Both sports fields are fenced, no playground equipment at Michaels Park.
- This was listed in Attachment 2
Youville Drive (Tawa Park). Rationale: It’s a dry pond, not a sports field.
- This was listed in Attachment 2
John Fry Park. Rationale: This is Industrial, with baseball diamonds primarily used for adult recreation in the evenings
- This was listed in Attachment 2
Based on the mixed concerns about a few other locations as well, I have submitted the following locations for further review:
Mill Woods Road: 36 Ave – 36b Ave (Fenced, playground on other side of school)
38 Ave: 55 St – Grand Meadow Crescent. (This road is almost arterial) (Greenview school park has a small tree line and small hill between the park and the road, with entry points behind the park) (John Paul I Catholic School park is behind school, field has a large set back before any designated sports area)
Millbourne Road East: 36a Ave – North of Lee Ridge Road. (Large Setback of Playground equipment and designated sports area).
The remaining parts of the motion were as follows.
“2. That Administration report back on existing practice and and how it would approach establishing roadway controls design criteria that lead to intuitive driving practices, and that avoid a proliferation of signs and other distractions.
- That Administration develop a mechanism whereby residents can request a review of a particular road or either establish a new playground zone, or have an existing playground zone modified or removed.
- That Administration report back on adopting the “Alberta Transportation Guideline for Schools and Playground Zones and Areas” criteria regarding the establishment of playground areas and evaluate all zones against this criteria.
- That Administration bring a report outlining options or recommendations for variable seasonal times for playground zones based on operational data.”
Parts 1-4 of the motion are due August 14, 2018 to Urban Planning Committee. Part 5 is due by June 2019. I believe this motion helps build a good framework to apply a common sense based approach to how we move people, while having safeguard procedures to ensure we have the results we’re looking to attain.
I would like to hear your feedback over the next few months, and hold onto it for when these reports come back. Please feel free to leave a comment, email, or call my office with your view.
There comes a time where taxes and regulations get to a point where it just breaks your back.
Conversations in Council often revolve around Urban Sprawl, but I’m more worried about the
industrial and commercial urban decay we’re going through and I believe we’ve reached the
breaking point. The root cause of this decay is higher taxes, regulations, and just straight out
red tape. As a result, businesses have started going to surrounding jurisdictions where permits
are easier to obtain and cost savings to the business can add up to $1.50 per square foot. It
may not sound like much but when we are talking about millions of square feet of commercial
and industrial space it adds up quickly.
A recent report produced by the local chapter of Commercial and Real Estate
Development Association showed the City of Edmonton’s non-residential median mill rate was
approximately 65% higher than the mill rate in the in the surrounding municipalities and 33%
higher than that of the city of Calgary in 2015. The main reason being that City operational
spending was up 37% between 2011-2016 with only a 18% (plus inflation) increase in
population growth. In short, our tax rate is not regionally competitive and we are losing business
because of it.
Why should this matter to you? If there isn’t a healthy commercial and industrial tax base within
our civic boundaries then you the residential tax payer are left to pay the gap. The fewer
commercial and industrial taxpayers the less money city collects, if the city collects less money
we either have to cut expenses or raise your residential property taxes. The math is simple.
A new radical philosophy is coming to our Canadian cities that says business is the enemy.
Don’t believe it then I encourage you to follow what has just happened in Seattle where city
council just passed a new law establishing aHeadTax of $275 forevery employee for all the
major businesses in the area. What do think business will do in this situation? Will they re-
invest, will they open up new plants or head offices or will they move elsewhere? Everyone
needs to pay their fair share and we are all demanding better value for our taxes but today we
need grapple with our own government spending demons and deal with the barriers that are
preventing a healthier taxpaying business community in our own city.
Comments? Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org or (780) 496-8142.
I love the potential of bike lanes. With a capability of moving so many people per hour, how could we not want to embrace that? They work in other cities, so naturally, we should jump on board. Now that we have a top notch bike network, I’m shockingly disappointed at the results. According to our metrics, we’re currently seeing about 1,000 total trips per day, with no indication of how many of these trips are duplicate counts, leisure vs. commute. Or if there’s any insight to the allegations of fanatics aiming to skew the numbers.
Administration was supposed to measure four items with targets set against the 2016 baseline (for which I cannot find said baseline) for each one:
- Weekday cyclist trips
- Proportion of female cyclists riding downtown
- Reported number of cyclist-related injuries
- Number of positive use experiences/citizens feeling safe downtown
As I understand the data, if a student were to cycle along 106 Street from 100 Avenue to MacEwan University, then back at the end of the day, this would be counted as four trips for the day. These trips are then presented in a manner that feels like each count is a unique rider.
Not all routes are being counted each day. Administration is supposed to perform counts approximately every two weeks, yet some of these counts are a day apart while others are a month apart.
We’ve given the bike network a more than fair opportunity. We spent $7.5 million for 7.8 km of bike lanes, plus $625,000/year for upkeep. Bike lanes are even prioritized as arterial roadways for snow removal, where the snow is usually cleared before the adjacent street.
I’m not trying to kill the bike network, but I’d like to know what went wrong. Unfortunately, I cannot find enough results for the items we were supposed to measure. Do you feel there is appropriate value for your taxes, or do you feel as mislead as I do?
I am so thrilled to have been re-elected to serve the constituents of Ward 11! Thank you to everyone who supported. I am looking forward to working with you on community driven goals. The first priority is to take care of the budget. I aim to ensure that everyone is getting value for their tax dollars. Next I will continue to prioritize and organize the comments and concerns I heard over the campaign trail, as well as the ones still coming in. In order to help better serve the constituents, I will be revamping my website. The new design will be focused on consolidating information from my end to present to you, while opening opportunity for you to engage and share your feedback on what’s happening in your community. The new design is expected to be live in December so stay tuned. In the meantime, I will be posting updates to social media on an as needed basis, so please make sure you stay connected during our website construction. If you have any concerns that are more immediate, I encourage you to contact my office via email at email@example.com.
Thank you again for the honour of being elected to represent you for the next 4 years. I look forward to making your voices heard in City Hall.