I talk about the reality of economic development and keep pointing out that the downtown is a totally under utilized economic resource. It should be an economic incubator as our city has invested in development, infrastructure including waste and storm sewer, water, asphalt, curbs and sidewalks, lighting over the last 113 years. It does not require rezoning or any further city investment. Downtown just needs developers to see the advantage to updating their buildings and attract businesses willing to looking at the opportunities presented in our historic downtown. Merchants then must be willing to make our downtown a dynamic and vibrant place to explore and shop and find entertainment during the hours from 4pm till 8 or 9pm when people are wanting to get out and shop and look for something to do.
Here are the facts:
We have 3000 people working in the downtown core - our communities largest employer
We have 306 separate businesses or offices in the core
100 merchants plus 65 in the Gateway Mall for a total of 165
61 Professional offices
95 Non profits, schools, clubs, churches and media
We bring in 1.5 million in taxes with little return to the district.
4% of all downtown business taxes are imposed as an improvement district levee
Many downtown businesses want us to use some parking surpluses to support renewal, since it is money realized from proceeds of customers using downtown services:
Parking revenues for 2012 grossed $744K We have a gross profit after paying for the new parking meters of $328K. Once the meters are paid we would have $473K returned to general revenue. Our 2012 budget called for net of $251K and we realized $77K more. I say we should start by looking at providing that amount to the revitalization planning.
Corner Stone has 30 stores and they pay taxes on the square footage of the stores not the parking lot. In comparison 306 offices pay taxes or servicing agreements and the customers or clients must pay for parking. So think about it. The downtown business district pays 1.5 million in taxes and we impose parking meters and return the revenues to general revenue not to the revitalization. Then we ask the businesses for a levee of 4% and that is all we give back to them in investment.
In the past year council has decided to cut budgets for year round bylaw enforcement, street sweeping and many other items such as street beautification and sidewalk repairs.
On the positive front we need to congratulations to the hard working people investing time and energy working on the Downtown Association, Main Street Program, Community Futures, PA Chamber and the PA Tourism and Convention Association, Museum and Heritage organizations and many others. Please keep up the good work. Hopefully we on council will get the message. To our old and new businesses that have stuck it out and invested hard dollars to build a downtown business I for one feel your payback is coming.
Here are a few of the things I have heard people talk about and say what we need to get started at right away.
A brand (developed by the community players PLEASE NOT GATEWAY TO THE NORTH - that is where people leave from not stay and enjoy) The one I have heard most is “Meeting Place” from the Cree words - Sakitawak or Kestapin - recommended by past committees but not supported by past political will.
More family destination attractions (festivals, markets, family park, attract new enterprise)
Action by property owners and developers to fixing and renovating their properties so they are more interesting for investment and rental (some communities make it expensive for owners to leave their property vacant or in poor repair.)
Business entrepreneurs to see the potential and be innovator of new ideas stay open like Cornerstone so people can come down and enjoy shopping and services in the evening (think when you go on holidays - do you stay in your hotel room at 5pm or go out and enjoy the amenities of the place you are visiting?)
City council to get on side by providing bylaws, environment and services to support the investment and people enjoying our downtown. (Yes including full time bylaw and police patrols). Invest in making our downtown a place where entrepreneurs want to invest and thrive.
Build pride in our historic downtown and make it a vibrant part of our economic region and ask senior governments to buy in and assist.
It is so close. All we need is the will to put all the pieces together. Just look at Moose Jaw's success. City council, it will not cost us one extra penny but make us tons of money when the downtown renewal starts and succeeds. We all win.
I have learned that council is made up of 9 individuals that sometimes are very independent in their thinking and at other times very inclusive. Sometime I have a great idea in my mind that is not shared and that is good. Sober thought is what makes up the first level of government. Civic politics is inclusive. You call me I listen, you want information you get it, you need something looked after I try for a solution. My other councillors seem to be the same in reacting to our citizens needs.
Where it becomes difficult is attempting to be the expert on everything that comes forward. Some on council would profess to be that, I do not. I need your feedback and encourage your dialogue. I will give you an example. I voted on two readings against the tax increase as presented by administration. I asked questions the last was if the business community would see increases. I was told commercial rates would be “revenue neutral to the city. Now that I type it out it begs questions. At the time in the council chambers with 8 others, administration and media present I must say I thought it meant our businesses would see no increase. As you know I was totally wrong. Yep I am not perfect, ask my wife Kathy. Some have seen massive increases mostly due to the provincial assessment being updated since the last one four years ago and of course our increases for roads and infrastructure improvements. Well, I missed the boat. I did not understand the meaning. I would not have voted in favour if I had known. We have talked to many businesses and I gave feedback to administration and the mayor. Today the mayor is announcing a way to attempt to mitigate the pain over six months. Those businesses with increases can opt to pay the increase in six months by November 30th without penalties. Or better yet go on the TIPPS program and pay 1/12 monthly. Both viable options and I hope they are useful to our businesses that need help.
What a spring rain, rain go away. Saturday’s Street Fair went forward even with the poor weather. It speaks to the tenacity of merchants, displayers, performers and our public. This event brings for one day the dream I have for our downtown. Just think if we had a vibrant downtown community with this happening every week. With musicians, artisans, merchants, families and tourists coming to be part of the downtown fair. We could start with one days a week and grow to what the public demand. But it takes will - property owners, businesses, government but most important you must have the will to improve our downtown.
I would love to revitalize our downtown, encourage it to be a gathering or meeting place. Increase our heritage and culture by developing museums, interactive enactments, possibly have a huge heritage themed water feature on the riverbank, develop shops for artisans, farmers markets, new entrepreneurs. I believe if they build it the people will come, business will develop and we will have people wanting to live downtown close to the new gathering or meeting place. Will it happen in a few years, no it will take 10 or 20 years but if we do not do it now it will not happen. We need to get started. And the phobia about not wanting to come downtown will be gone as the problems will move away because of all the traffic. So we have other issues always coming forward, little money to fund so many community initiatives.
So if you have ideas and positive ideas give me a call. I need the positive 90%, because too often the 10% negative that drive our agendas and in the long run curb our ability to get things done, so let’s work together to get the most done in the next 3 years. We need to work for the betterment of all.
Call me I need your positive input. (If negative please call one of the other councillors...just kidding call me)
Last Monday was our council’s first view and I think everyone is missing the point. The policy wasn't created because we wanted to track employees. The policy is so that it is clear when we can use the GPS capabilities of the equipment that we already have and may buy in the future. Cities across Canada have tracked buses, snow plows, emergency response vehicles and other equipment but our City has never had a policy to deal with if, when and how can it be used.
I believe employees should know when the employer may utilize these GPS systems. Most of us do not realize we have GPS tracking on our cell phones. If I lose my cell phone, I can use GPS to track where I have left it. If we get a complaint that a City vehicle was seen outside of our municipality when there was no authorization to do so, we can use GPS to confirm or deny the rumour. Our administration recommends GPS tracking because it has many benefits for both employee and employer, when used properly and fairly and they are asking council for support of a new policy.
It is my wish that we would unveil their GPS programs in an open manner – employees, supervisors, foreman, management , and public should all be made aware of the particular system in place and how it works. After all, the main benefit of using a GPS system is to encourage accountability amongst all parties – not to catch people in the act of doing something wrong.
Like our mayor and other councillors I have many question. The most important is how we use the technology to protect our employees by providing them GPS tracking which hopefully will offers the city numerous benefits in the future such as:
reduced fuel costs,
lower insurance premiums,
improved dispatching, and back office efficiencies
improvement in driver behaviour,
faster response times,
be an efficiency gauge
our goal is the technology will reduced overhead costs,
At the end of the day we do not have the resources or people to monitor our city and it’s vehicles all the time. It is a simple tool to use when we need it. The policy is need to make sure it is implemented and used fairly and properly
I hope our employees feel we may be running the city better and their jobs as well, not because you think they are all misusing the vehicles. I hope we all can focus on three key benefits:
Safety, Service, and Savings.
A fleet tracking system provides alerts that will allow your city to maintain a proper maintenance schedule for the vehicles. This ensures that the vehicles are up to date with oil changes, tire rotations, and all other servicing needs. GPS tracking also helps expedite recovery of stolen vehicles and any equipment or tools on board. Because vehicles with GPS tracking are more likely to be recovered sooner, resulting in little to no loss or damages, insurance premiums are reduced as a reward for the extra safety measures.
GPS tracking is invaluable as a customer service tool. Citizens will no longer have the ability to lodge false complaints about employees. You can back employee claims of services rendered. Also, a fleet tracking system allows your business to respond more quickly to city needs, resulting in more resources available in a time when we have limited resources.
GPS tracking provides numerous benefits that help increase revenue. These include reduced fuel costs, lower insurance premiums, increased productivity, improved dispatching, and back office efficiencies. For the driver, all these benefits add to job security with a financially stable city during these tough economic times. Saving money on fuel alone over the course of the year can provide the entire salary for more employees.
The exciting thing about being new to council is we do not have any predetermined or historic baggage. Everything is new and exciting. Let me give you an idea about why it is exciting to work with our mayor and council. It is about being inclusive. The mayor has made every effort to make us a team. He has asked us to choose committee work, attend events, and make decisions for the best of the community. We are not always in agreement for instance the $60 base tax myself and two other councillors voted against it wanting to add it to the mill rate. We lost but at least we got to discuss our reasons and make our case. One of the things I have learned quickly is our city is run as a corporation and it is a “FEE FOR SERVICE” corporation. We pay our taxes for all our services including police, fire, water, sewer, garbage, roads, parks, recreation facilities, community clubs and most important the quality of our social life in the city. Just think for most of us we pay taxes monthly that do not even add up to what we pay for internet, cable, telephone or in some cases what a family pays for all their cell phone services monthly. Pretty good deal overall. It is about our quality of life and the wonderful city we choose to live in.
New construction spring 2013
One of the things you will find is I like to work out of the box. I hope my other councillors are the same. We need to come up with innovative solutions to get the best bang for the buck. That means sitting down with our employees, unions and most important our citizens to get the best ideas to make our city the best it can be. We are in it together and that is what makes it so important to work with our senior governments to make sure we are getting our fair share. Then taking those resources and putting them to the best use for the good of our city.
Being on council is not always fun or without sleepless nights. We have to make decisions sometimes without really having all the time we would like to think things out or do our own research. Sometimes it is about neglect by previous councils not wanting to make the hard decisions about increasing taxes to pay for repairs to roads, water and sewer or saying no to huge wage increases. It is not easy saying no to our community non profits that bring so much value to our city. As you know I believe strongly in the neglect of our downtown and it’s need for revitalization and my concern for our most at risk. I know that we have had to make hard decisions to not fund repairs to various facilities and it is hard. One that seemed in the past not that important to council was the Diefenbaker House. We have put $55,000 towards keeping the foundation stable but it is a drop in the bucket to protect this historic site. We just do not have enough money or resources for everything. What I do know is we have the best people and groups working on these things. Our administration, city employees, volunteers and elected officials are all in it to do the best for you and your families.
In the long run we are in this together and I for one thank you for allowing me to represent you. I will meet with you or you can call, email twitter, leave ideas or issues on my blog. Council always need your input. Here is how to get a hold of me:
Congratulations to Children's Haven Power 99fn 24th Radio Marathon over 120K in donations.
Thanks for the pancake breakfast, it was exciting to see my counterparts Councillor Miller and Atkinson out participating 7 am Thursday morning.
It was rewarding to meet the organizers, volunteers and people lined up to donate money, goods in kind and show their support. My shift from 7am till 9am allowed me to bring in a few thousand in donations and gifts in kind. Thanks to all that particiapted.
Embee Diamonds in Prince Albert has partnered with African Diamonds for Development (ADFD) to bring precious stones to the international market in an ethical way.
ADFD, a Calgary-based, is several weeks away from starting production in the Kasai-Oriental province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Michael Botha is well-known in the diamond community for his Sirius Star design, which will be used to shape the rough stones from the Congo. The Botha family have invested in the former Bank of Montreal building where they have completed major renovations.
Congratulations Michael Botha, Embee Diamond’s master diamond cutter and the Botha Family for bringing your vision and talents to Prince Albert's downtown. Watch this enterprise as it brings in more diamond cutters and in the future invites the public to view their operations.