The transition from the last city council to the current one will take a while, with the newly elected council aiming to make a unique mark on the city.
“The priorities are really educating ourselves and learning about the processes as quickly as we can so we can make wise decisions to guide the city into the next five years,” Coun. Rick Orr said. “We should be planning five years in advance.”
Facing a brand new year, the following are some of the items a few members of city council available for comment on Monday have resolved to take on over the next 12 months.
But, as Mayor Greg Dionne is quick to note, the city has nine elected officials with one vote each, therefore it’ll be up to all of council whether the following goals are achieved.
The budget for 2013 shouldn’t be a status quo endeavour, Coun. Lee Atkinson said, noting that the way things were done in the past isn’t necessarily what’s right for the city’s future.
Looking into city efficiencies will help in this regard, as well as identifying the true cost of city operations.
The Cooke Municipal Golf Course is one example, with council having decided this month against charging a utility rate for its water use.
“Hopefully that will be reconsidered,” Atkinson said, noting that a discussion on water rates will come up in the very near future.
“I don’t think households should be subsidizing their costs.”
The budget process will be a difficult one, Dionne said, noting that labour contracts are up for negotiation.
“We might have to make some cuts, but we’re going to ask people to be involved, we’re going to consult with the public and move the budget issue forward,” he said.
“We’re going to reach out to our union staff to come up for ways that we can save money and costs, because lots of times the people on the front line know about better ways that we can do -- best practices, for better ways than we do now.”
On a similar note, Dionne plans on recommending a funding freeze to external agencies until they can be reviewed, excluding those that already have an agreement with the city for annual funding increases.
“We’ve been cutting our out-of-scope management staff for the last couple years, and some of the agencies we fund have been expanding,” Dionne said. “There’s something wrong with that picture.
“When the public asks us to cut, I believe they want us to cut from everyone.”
There are many facets to the city budget that need change, Dionne said. With city council required to come up with a 2013 budget to be implemented within a few months, it won’t be until the 2014 that they’ll have time to produce a document more succinct with the new council’s wishes.
“I want people to know that once we approve the budget for 2013, we’re not done the 2013 budget,” Dionne said. “At the end of the day, the taxpayers of this city believe that the taxes are too high … We have to look all the tools that we have available.
“I’m going to do my best to bring it down, that’s what I’m going for. It’s going to be an exciting challenge in 2013, but … I believe council’s up to that challenge.”
“No. 1 will be economic development for the next three to four years -- not just next year,” Dionne said.
“We’ve already started that change, as people know we’ve let the director (of economic development) go, and we’re going to put an economic development committee together to overlook that department and to give instructions and move the city forward, so that’s an exciting thing for me in the coming months.”
Another change Dionne would like to see is no single person in the department be given the power to say no to any economic development deal, with everything going through city council.
That way, he explained, things won’t be automatically be denied when they break bylaws, policy or zoning designations, with council deciding whether the project warrants leeway in these regards.
“One of the most important things, I think, is to have a mayor and council who are open to the media, open to the public,” Orr said.
Another trick, he added, is to have a city council that is open to the public and answerable to those who elected them.
“They feel isolated, and I guess when you get busy in council like we do, we get so overwhelmed with doing the business that we forget that we have to communicate with the people who elected us,” he said, adding that public town-hall style meetings in the wards might be the way to go.
“They want to know that their elected officials are available to hear what their day to day concerns are -- that’s one of the things I think all of us want to figure out … to be more inclusive and to hear what people have to say.”
The provincial government has considered handing control to municipalities of when off-sale liquor outlets are allowed to remain open.
“I think first we have to see what the province is going to do,” Dionne said, adding that if the province does decide to pass control over to municipalities, then that will be the time to meet with stakeholders.
“Do I believe that we should? I’m only one vote … but I have no problem taking over that responsibility from the province,” Dionne said.
“Especially now that … we had a liquor place open on Christmas day.”
The city’s many committees have seen appointments made tentatively, until a better system has been devised for early in the new year.
“The first thing that’s a priority for me in council is to work with the mayor and council to find out what our jobs are going to be,” Orr said.
Dionne has proposed several changes, which involve bylaw amendments that take some time to pass through council.
“We’re recommending to council to scrap a bunch of committees that we felt we didn’t need, and we also downsized the size of committees,” he explained.
“We want all of our committees to be efficient, and we want to empower them more to get the job done that we require, so it will be an exciting time to be on a committee and moving forward in our community.
A second bridge
Atkinson is the first on council to forge ahead on Prince Albert’s need for a second North Saskatchewan River crossing, motioning during the last city council meeting of the year for council to support a second river crossing east of the city.
The city already has a completed study that identifies a location east of the city, so there’s little need in waiting for another report, which is expected to come in by the end of January.
“This one, I suggest, would say something similar,” Atkinson reasoned. “There’s a report right before you that no one said anything about.”
The report should be more than just “received and filed,” he said, with city council putting forth a specific request of the province as soon as possible to get the ball rolling in what will be a multi-year project.
“Let’s state what the city wants and endorse a second river crossing east of the city.”