Embarking on what he referred to as a “new era for the City of Prince Albert,” Mayor Greg Dionne said that he wants to see the city grow.
While Saskatchewan’s population increased by 6.7 per cent between 2006 and 2011, according to Statistics Canada, Prince Albert’s increased by only 2.94 per cent.
“We have to grow our community,” Dionne said during Thursday’s annual State of the City Address, noting that “community” refers to not only Prince Albert, but also the region as a whole.
“At the end of the day, the more jobs are in our region, the more it benefits the City of Prince Albert … We’ve been growing at just too slow of a rate.
Economic development is currently in the midst of a restructuring, with a more “open for business” mentality underlining it, he said.
From now on, no one person in any city department can turn down any permit, Dionne said, with everything now having to go in front of city council, first.
In a good year, the city has 200 lots available for development, he said.
“Well, we should have 400 to 500 lots available.”
To help do this, private developers will be in charge residential development from now on, therefore saving taxpayers the expense of installing their required infrastructure.
“We cannot afford to invest taxpayer money and to hold onto the inventory that’s required for growth,” Dionne said, noting that developers will still have to follow city-mandated requirements.
Tying into the population growth Dionne and council are aiming for is the need for amenities, with the city’s elected officials currently looking into the possibility of a new recreational centre.
What Prince Albert needs is a leisure centre comparable to the one in Melfort, Dionne said.
“We have to have a recreation facility for our young kids to go, because at the end of the day, you look outside -- the majority of our life is winter, so we need these indoor facilities,” he said.
“We’re talking about (a place) where you can take your young family and enjoy the shallow waters, the wave pools, some excitement.”
The city’s elected officials plan on touring various facilities throughout the province in February, including the rink in Moose Jaw and the pool in North Battleford, to gain some inspiration.
Encompassing all these growth initiatives is the need for a 10-year development plan.
The city currently doesn’t have a plan, Dionne said.
“You can control your costs with a 10-year plan,” he said.
Currently midway into budget preparation work for the city’s 2013 budget, due by March, Dionne said that he’s already confident there will be a tax increase -- “Not significant, but we won’t be able to avoid one,” he clarified.
With a table full of aging infrastructure on display during his presentation, including rusted-out and melted pipes, Dionne said that the city “cannot afford to ignore our infrastructure problems.
“What happens is, as you know, if you don’t fix it today, tomorrow it’s going to cost you more money.”
Although the city has one of the highest tax rates in the province, it also boasts one of the lowest base tax rates – something Dionne hopes to even out in the near future.
But, he said, the city’s 2013 budget will be an ongoing piece of work, with the document to change throughout the year.
The city’s 2014 budget will be better indicative of the goals of the new city council, he said.
At the end of the day, the more jobs are in our region, the more it benefits the City of Prince Albert … We’ve been growing at just too slow of a rate. - Mayor Greg Dionne
Every item within the budget is currently under a microscope, Dionne said, with some projects that would typically be rubber-stamped being reconsidered.
As the city’s 10-year plan begins to solidify, Dionne said that he plans to have signs put up throughout the city advertising what infrastructure work will be done, and when.
“You’re going to be able to see where your dollars are spent.”
Other items discussed:
Throughout his 10-minute speech and 20-minute question and answer period on Thursday, Mayor Greg Dionne touched on many additional topics, of which the following are a couple.
• The Diefenbaker bridge is an issue that might lay dormant for a while, Dionne said, as the city puts its focus on other areas.
But, as soon as a provincial election is called, the discussion will quickly resurface.
Prince Albert MP Randy Hoback, who was in attendance on Thursday, is willing to help, Dionne said.
“Our MLAs, today, unfortunately couldn’t make it. They’re media-shy.”
• The Rotary Trail is set to see work done this year, Dionne confirmed.
“You will see a significant part of the trail completed this year,” he said. “You’ll see all the short-term … connector (pieces) fixed.”
A major announcement is on the horizon with a partner in the community, he ambiguously said, saving the official announcement for some time in the near future.