What's coming to council tomorrow?

Council's agenda is very light for the regular council meeting on Monday -- you can see the agenda package by clicking here:  http://www.banff.ca/AssetFactory.aspx?did=1785

The two main items are a presentation on the Mental Health Capacity Building Project (there is no advance written material, so I can't tell you anything about the content of this presentation at this point), and the upgrading of the Crandall/Peck cabin on Buffalo Street from a B-listed heritage resource to an A-listed heritage resource.  The report, which you can read in the package, gives historic background on the cabin, including the fact that the building of the cabin actually pre-dated the building of Buffalo Street.

What's happening with the budget?

Wow, what a difference a week can make!  Last Wednesday, at our scheduled budget meeting, Mayor Stutz brought forward several motions:

  • to ask administration for a draft budget with a zero percent overall tax increase
  • to freeze town staff and council wages at the 2008 level for 2009
  • to make the same contribution to capital reserves in 2009 that we made in 2008
  • to bring back all the new initiatives that had been already discussed for reconsideration

Council recognized the intent behind these motions and passed them unanimously.  This does not mean that the final budget will look exactly like that -- it just means that administration will bring us back a draft with those parameters.  That draft will come to us tomorrow, in a special budget meeting set for after the regular meeting. 

The mayor mentioned that he was bringing these major changes to the table because of the dire predictions for 2009, and the actions that most employers in the town are already being forced to take in preparation for what could be a very quiet year in our one industry, tourism.  I know that it was very difficult for John to present these motions, because he has always been extremely supportive of staff and wants them to feel valued and well compensated for their work.  However, as we look around and see the economic concerns unfolding for our friends and neighbours -- business owners and employees alike -- it becomes impossible to imagine taxing townspeople to provide a raise to town council and staff that the taxpayers will not be getting themselves.

I applaud John for making a series of difficult proposals in order to provide leadership in these tough economic times.  If things loosen up faster than expected, we will be able to respond to that, but this precautionary approach is warranted right now, with the predictions we are hearing.

There will be further discussions around this budget.  The actual tax level may end up being different from the draft that will come to us tomorrow.  For example, personally, I want to examine the proposal about capital reserve transfers very closely, to ensure that we continue to save for and plan for the maintenance and replacement of our essential infrastructure.  I'm concerned about this because I know that failing to maintain capital transfers can put future townspeople and councils into a financial hole that becomes more and more difficult to dig out of.

In summary, though, the playing field has shifted completely with the request for this new draft, and the budget discussions will be very different than they would have been a week ago.

Door-knocking is done for the year

I've decided to finish my door-to-door project for now, and pick it up again next fall.  With days getting so short, and people preferring not to have a knock on their door after dark, it is getting harder and harder to door-knock at a time when anyone will be at home!

I've done somewhere in the range of 710 doors, and covered the south side of the river, plus most of the residential west of Banff Avenue.  Next year, I'll need to complete Bighorn, part of Marten, Whiskey Creek, and the residential areas east of Banff Avenue.

Has it been worthwhile?  You bet!  Although it took a lot (a lot!) more time than I had anticipated, I learned so much and benefited so much.  Some of the key outcomes:

  • I heard from people all over the political spectrum.  Most of the time, we talk to people that we know, and chances are that they are people who share many of our own opinions.  This way, by visiting everyone, I heard a broader range of points of view.
  • I continued to learn about neighbourhoods - what they're like, who lives in them, what the hot-button issues are in different parts of town.  There is no better way to learn about this town than to walk the sidewalks, roads and trails.
  • I was reminded that a candidate is very different from a councillor.  Last year, door-knocking conversations were very short: "thanks for coming by, I'll think about voting for you".  This year, people were anxious to talk about the issues that concern them.
  • I'm so glad that I asked people to tell me one thing they like, as well as one thing they're concerned about.  It's human nature to come up with the concerns first, but the positive comments were equally illuminating, and they help me support the programs that people are most happy about.
  • It was fun to solve problems.  There were a few minor requests that only needed to be brought to the attention of town staff -- I was able to do that quickly and easily through the "action request" feature on the town's website, and it was great to see the fast response.
  • The symbolism of going door-to-door was important.  I wanted a way to say to people that in our municipal democracy their individual opinions and concerns matter, not just at election time, but all the time.  Going door-to-door on foot was the best way I could think  of to illustrate that. 
  • I am heartened and encouraged by the warm welcome that many people gave me, and how pleased they were to have me show up at their door.  It was the best possible reminder for me of why I want to do this job, and has filled me with enthusiasm for the year ahead.

The fine print

As always, this blog represents my personal point of view and does not purport to represent the opinions of Town Council or of the Town of Banff.

I have to confess that I've slowed down a lot in the past two weeks.  With early sunsets, budget meetings and the Mountain Festivals, it's been tough to fit in enough door-knocking time.  However, I have visited 82 doors on Squirrel, Marten, Elk, Bighorn and Lynx over the past two weeks, and here's what I've been hearing ...

Quite a few people mentioned being generally happy with town activities, with the new look of Banff Avenue heading the list of plusses.  Several people also mentioned the recycling program and the new busses.  Items that were praised by individual households:

  • an improvement in late-night noise
  • snow removal:  "it's outstanding!"
  • the skateboard park
  • the new crosswalk at Banff and Fox

In this diverse neighbourhood, the issues varied from household to household.  Concerns, suggestions and issues mentioned by individual households were:

  • a wish for more special events such as Bike Fest, Dragon Boats
  • a concern that bottle-pickers are losing income because of the new blue bins
  • a request for handicapped parking stalls on Banff Avenue
  • a request for a pedestrian-only Banff Avenue
  • a concern that the garbage bin transition was a bit rough, although OK now
  • a request for more frequent large item pickups - or the opportunity to book large item pickup by appointment
  • a plea for financial prudence
  • a concern about the visibility on Banff Avenue - a suggestion that the trees should all be deciduous, no confiers
  • a request for more flowering trees such as Maydays
  • a request for more enforcement related to skateboarders and cyclists on the sidewalks
  • a concern about the proposed $5,000 contribution from the seniors towards the cost of running their building
  • a request for community bikes - a "green bike" system
  • a request for more visible crosswalk markings
  • a plea for affordable housing
  • a concern about negligent landlords who don't maintain their rental accommodation
  • a request for more events that involve closing Banff Avenue to traffic
  • a concern about the visibility and timeliness of sandwich board signage placed before snow removals
  • a hope for Rec Centre renovations. 

 Two households mentioned Banff Live as a concern, and two households requested an outdoor skating rink, preferably in the downtown.

Hello everyone:

Just a few items to update you on ...


What's happened in budget meetings so far? 

On November 3, staff presented to council the draft budget that they have prepared.  This is the budget that you saw explained on the Town Pages in last week's Crag.  It's the version of the budget that is our base as we begin discussions -- it doesn't include any of the new initiatives that council or staff have suggested, and it includes some suggested service cuts which council may or may not agree to.

On November 5, council heard presentations from the library, the day care, Bow Valley Victim Services, Banff Volunteer Centre and the Bow Valley Naturalists, and received letters from the Banff Lake Louise Tourism Bureau and the National Army Cadet Camp, all concerning contributions that they hope Council will make, or fees that they hope Council will waive.

You can see the whole package here: 


It includes a very interesting letter from former mayor Dennis Shuler about the split between residential and commercial taxes in the town.  Over the past three years, the split has been moved away from what was established at the time of incorporation, and council will be discussing this split as we talk about the 2009 budget.

Budget meetings continue into December.  You can follow the progress of the budget on this page:



Council has a fairly short agenda on Monday, but there are two very important reports being presented.

First, an Urban Forest Management Plan.  The plan is intended to help staff manage our in-town trees on public lands, and includes:

  • an inventory and health assessment of our public trees
  • a review of past practices and our special conditions here in the park
  • identification of unhealthy or hazardous trees
  • recommendations for removals and for plantings
  • recommendations for heritage trees

It's worth reading!  Did you know that the town's largest public tree is a healthy white spruce at the north end of town?  It's around 100 feet high and about  10.5 feet around at chest height.  You can see the whole report here:


Just scroll down to page 14.

Unfortunately, the report tells us that our urban trees will need a lot of care and attention over the next ten years, and that will not be cheap.  The results of this report will be part of the budget discussions over the next month.

Second, an update of the Downtown Parking Needs Assessment.  You can see this report here:


by scrolling down to page 140. 

I'm interested to see that the report identifies that our parking occupancy has not increased significantly over the 2005 study, in spite of the removal of 90 stalls by Banff Refreshing.  It also states that we had 35 - 40 stalls available in the Cascade Plaza parkade and 7 stalls available in another parking lot at peak occupancy times on summer weekends, but then goes on to say that we have a current parking shortfall of 200 spaces.  I intend to ask a lot of questions around the analysis of this report.


I'm working away on the Squirrel/Elk/Rabbit street areas, and having a really interesting time chatting with people at the doors.  Everyone is happy with the new blue bins!

Door-knocking is getting more challenging now that we've gone back to standard time.  Those early evenings mean that I'm lucky to get in a half-hour on week-nights!  However, here's a summary of what I heard while doing 66 doors in the Spruce/Cougar area this past week.

In general, this is a contented group of citizens, with several households saying that they are generally pleased with the Town's services and activities, and one going so far as to say "What do I like?  Everything!".  The new blue bins and the recycling program were the specific items that got the most positive mentions. 

Individual households also mentioned:

  • The new look of Banff Avenue
  • the lighted crosswalk at Fox
  • the "greening of the Town" -- environmental initiatives in general
  • the town's efforts to "keep tourism happening"
  • the sundry waste advertising campaign:  "it's made a difference"

On areas for improvement, two households mentioned late night noise and a request to have the bars close earlier.  Two households mentioned community standards:  messy private lots in their neighbourhood.  Two households mentioned the need for more parking downtown.  Individual households mentioned:

  • the need to get rid of our "party town" reputation
  • a request for more information about recycling accessories, such as the stackable bins
  • a hope that the town will keep trying to diminish the problem of oversize waste stacked by the garbage bins
  • a request for more communication from the town
  • a suggestion that the town install more of the lighted sidewalks
  • a concern about the current push to remove crabapple trees, and a hope that another solution can be found
  • a concern about lighting around the mid-block crosswalks and on the sidewalks to the hotel district
  • a request for even more recycling bins, and more organics locations
  • a concern about the new Rec Centre project:  "we don't have the dollars, and there are lots of existing facilities in town"
  • a concern about Banff Live
  • a request for bylaw enforcement coverage in the evenings:  "everyone knows what time they go off shift"
  • a hope that businesses will become more active in recycling
  • a wish that dog-owners would "stoop and scoop" more
  • a concern about snow removal in residential areas:  "Graders are an endangered species"
  • concerns about the design of the new Banff Avenue:  corner bulges, mid-block crossings, handicapped parking
  • concerns about icy sidewalks in winter, and especially the need for more sanding on the wheelchair corner cuts

Just a quick note to let you know that Budget 2009 deliberations are starting tomorrow.  All budget meetings are open to the public.  You can follow the budget process on this page:


It includes the schedule of budget meetings, how to get non-profit funding applications on the agenda, and it will include draft budgets as they are presented and modified along the way.

Council members will be spending many hours outside of the meetings poring through the documents and preparing for the next discussion.  This is a very demanding time of year for council and staff alike, so I hope you will say something encouraging next time you see a haggard-looking municipal politician or staffer!