In last week’s City View I asked candidates to do their homework for the purpose of understanding the powers and authority involved in an elected position such as mayor or alderman. A second request was for candidates to seek thorough understanding of an issue before making profound statements about the action they would take. This is important because I believe the electorate expects our City council to make wise, informed decisions.
The hardest task an alderman has to do is to speak their mind in Council Chambers when it is filled with members of a passionate interest group demanding something that is not necessarily in the best interest of the community. I want an alderman who is skilled and knowledgeable enough to concisely explain to them he or she will not be supporting their request. How will I know when a candidate can be that alderman? When they can identify a community issue and speak to it with knowledge. This means identifying the options, understanding the various consequences, and then explaining the strategy required to undertake the initiative. Make no mistake, there are issues out there. In fact, some of them have been exposed by candidates but they have not done the necessary background research or provided a strategy to overcome the issue.
Taxes are an issue for 2011, but those who have identified it as an issue are making a number of assumptions rather than looking to understand the cause. I believe we must select the candidates that are ready to listen, learn and then act, not those who shoot first and then ask questions. Candidates, who are suggesting that these budget projections are a result of overspending, or poor money management, have not done any real homework. Perhaps they have chosen not to explain the rest of the story so that they can sensationalize the situation. This course of action does not demonstrate a transparent, accountable leadership that they claim they will provide if elected.
Every year the Provincial government provides each municipality with financial indicators so that they can compare themselves to other like communities. For a number of years, Airdrie was compared to other small cities. In that category, Airdrie often ranked the best, or very close to it in nearly every area. Recently the Province started to compare Airdrie to medium-sized cities such as Red Deer and Lethbridge. Nothing really changed; Airdrie still ranks the best or nearly the best in most categories.
For example, Airdrie’s total operating expenditures per capita is the lowest in this category; in fact 15 per cent below the average. Net municipal property taxes per capita are the lowest, 27 per cent below the average. Sales and user fees per capita are 20 per cent below the average. Long-term liquidity per capita is 32 per cent above average. Reserves per capita are 36 per cent higher than average. This does not sound like an out of control administration or Council for that matter.
The forecast for a 12 per cent tax increase in 2011 is eighteen months old. Council has not seen the budget for 2011, never mind approved one. Administration anticipated the assuming responsibility for ambulance service in 2010 and eliminating the grant dollars it provided to the community to provide those services ($4M). You may be wondering about the operational savings as a result of not providing the services. There aren’t many because Airdrie operated an integrated service. What this means is that the paramedics and EMTs were also our firemen and since we still need firemen the City has virtually the same costs, just $4M less to do it with. I know administration has been working on this issue for more than a year and I am very confident they will not be making a request of 12 per cent (or anything close to that number) tax increase.
Candidates who insist that taxes be held to inflationary rates are going to tie their hands, should they be elected, before they have full understanding of all the facts. Do you know that property taxes only account for 40 per cent of the City’s revenue? If you didn’t, and I am imagining you are in the vast majority, you can see that some candidates are making promises, or suggesting solutions before understanding all of the options or consequences. In fact they have pointed the finger (unfairly I might add) at the very people who they would have to work with to develop the appropriate strategies. That is not what I would call a great first step.
Candidates have the public forum on Oct. 5 to make a lasting impression on the public. Please take a step back and review your positions and show us that you are prepared to be a part of a leadership team that will carry this community into the future.
George Keen is the former City Manager for Airdrie