Hello everyone:

Glad to see the weather forecast brightening up a bit!  Before I get out to enjoy this 7-degree day, here is an update on what’s going on with Council.

MONDAY COUNCIL MEETING

Council meets on Monday at 2 pm.  As always, we’d be delighted to see you in the public gallery – there are two opportunities during the meeting for you to ask questions related to Monday’s agenda.  For those of you who are thinking of running in the fall, it’s definitely not too early to start getting up to speed on the issues!

You can see the whole council package for Monday at this link:
http://www.banff.ca/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/05272013-292

Here are a few highlights from the meeting package ...

Mountain View Estates Housing Co-op

On page 5 of the package, you can see a letter from the Co-op, indicating that they would like to work on an Area Redevelopment Plan.  The density changes in the Land Use Bylaw have created opportunities for their residents to increase the size of their units, and the Co-op is interested in being proactive and looking at how this will affect their area overall.  I applaud the Co-op’s interest in looking ahead, and ensuring that their part of town remains a great place to live.

Library Board By-laws

The Library Board has been doing some tidying up of their bylaws, and they’re bringing the results to Council for approval.  You can see their report starting on page 6 of the package.

The Transportation Plan Continues!

Given that the Crag has already run a survey asking if our transportation changes were good enough, you might be forgiven for thinking that this plan has been reviewed and adopted.  In fact, Council ran out of time at the last meeting and had to postpone the rest of the plan to this coming Monday.  We have about two-thirds of the recommendations still to look at, including paid parking, which will definitely prompt some lively discussion.  In most of the discussions I’ve had, people can support the idea of paid parking if the money is going to a logical end, such as improving transit.  What do you think?

A few of the recommendations that were approved at the last meeting:  implementing a scramble intersection at Banff and Caribou, implementing angle parking in the 100 block of Bow, opening up turning lanes in front of the post office and the Seniors’ Centre, making line changes on Banff Avenue at Buffalo Street to help get straight-on traffic through the intersection.  Most were for implementation this summer, but the scramble intersection will be in 2014.  To see a complete list of what was approved, take a look at that part of the minutes, starting on page 38 of this package.  And you can see the reports and recommendations for this meeting, starting on page 43, and then again on page 134, of this package.

Skateboarding enforcement

On page 106 of the package, you can see a letter urging stronger enforcement of skateboarding rules.  I agree that skateboarding on downtown sidewalks and the river path is a safety hazard, and I really appreciate the skateboarders who follow the rules, and carry their boards in areas of high pedestrian traffic.  Unfortunately, I have had a few experiences similar to those of our letter writer.  The writer points out that the only reason to oppose increased fines would be that one is intending to break the bylaw.  What do you think?  Is it time to increase the fines?

Economic Prosperity Strategy – phase 2

At the last meeting, Council received the report from Phase 1, in which a wide range of people were interviewed and surveyed to gather their opinions on what a prosperous Banff would look like.  Now it’s time to lay out some strategies and tactics that would move us in the directions people identified.  In the report starting on page 127, you can see proposals for three options to do this.  I would like to see Option 3 -- a consultant working with a broad-based local steering committee.  This would require taking some money from our Budget Stabilization Reserve, so I will be asking for a reminder on what our target is for that reserve, and how close we are to that target, before making my vote.

2011-2012 Crime Statistics

Ever wanted to know how many people are reported as “missing”, or how many people spend the night in our cells, or how many cars are stolen?  Starting on page 130 of the package, you can see all the details f these items and many, many more for 2011 and 2012.  The report also points out that false or abandoned 911 calls used up the equivalent of one-half of a full-time police officer in 2012.  Pocket-dialing appears to be the main cause, so let’s all be very careful.  911 is a wonderful service that should not be abused!

ALSO ON MY COUNCIL CALENDAR THIS WEEK

Finance Committee

On Monday morning at 10 am, Council meets as the Finance Committee.  This is an open public meeting, and you’re always welcome to attend.  This week’s meeting includes a review of the Q1 forecast (staff are presently forecasting that we will finish 2013 right on budget), a discussion of how to best link the service review to the budget, and a request to provide a dumpster for the United Church, and empty it without fees, to help with their thrift shop service.

You can see the entire package for this meeting at this link:
http://www.banff.ca/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/05272013-291

Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference

I will be attending this conference in Vancouver, departing on Thursday.  The FCM is the network for Canadian municipalities across the country, and the direct connection between Canadian municipalities and the federal government.  It carries our messages about such key issues as infrastructure deficits, lobbying for municipalities on Parliament Hill.  I find this conference a valuable opportunity to learn about best practices from other municipalities, and to let others know about what we’re doing in Banff.  This year, I’ll be concentrating on housing-related information to bring back to the Community Housing Strategy committee.  You can see the information about this conference at the following link:
http://www.fcm.ca/home/events/2013-annual-conference-and-trade-show.htm

Council’s policy allows each councillor to attend one conference out of province (usually the FCM), and one conference in province (usually the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association), each budget year.  However, the actual money in the budget does not provide enough to do both, so this will be my one council-supported conference this year.

THE FINE PRINT

As always, any opinions in this post are my personal opinions.  This post is not an official communication of the Town of Banff or its Council.  I welcome your comments and questions!

All the best until next time -- Leslie

Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!

MONDAY MEETING OF COUNCIL

Council has a very (very!) busy meeting on Monday.  You can see the whole package at this link:
http://www.banff.ca/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/05132013-287

Here are a few of the highlights from the package:

Budget amendment and tax rate

Starting on page 69 of the package, you can read two reports about the impact of the provincial education tax changes on our community’s budget and on our 2013 property taxes.

If you’re a regular reader of these emails, you’ll recall that the Town has been steadily increasing our contributions to capital reserves (the “savings account” that the Town maintains so that future replacements of infrastructure won’t break the bank for the future taxpayers).  We’ve been doing that by “occupying the taxing room” left by decreases in the province’s education taxes collected from Banff.  We had every reason to believe that this trend would continue for at least a couple more years, given what was said during the election, and what the province’s mayors were told by the Municipal Affairs minister just days before the budget came out (“The province will not be balancing its budget on the backs of municipalities”!). 

Unfortunately, the provincial budget did not match what we thought we had been told, and the impact on Banff’s 2013 property taxes has been substantial. 

In order to mitigate the effect on taxpayers, town administration is proposing that we lower the amount going to capital reserves from this year’s budget.  I’m very concerned about this, as we have worked hard as a community to get to the point where we could see that our future infrastructure needs were covered.  This would be a step back from that achievement.  It’s always easy to cut contributions to capital reserves, because the effects are long-term, not short-term.  It’s short-term gain for long-term pain.  I want to discuss with other councillors and staff whether this is really the right way for us to react.

Even with the proposed cut to capital contributions, it appears likely that property taxes will go up substantially.  At a 6 to 1 commercial/residential split, which is what is being proposed, the overall tax increase will be 6.5% for residential, and 4.24% for commercial.  Compare this to 1.71%, which is what we had budgeted for, before the surprise news from the province.

Municipal election 2013

Starting on page 85 of the package, you can read all about the organization required for the 2013 municipal election.  Just a reminder here:  if you’re thinking of running, and are looking for advice or information, I’d be delighted to chat!  Start planning now, because October is coming up fast.  It appears likely that at least two incumbents will not be running again, and we need YOU good people to step up and offer your ideas and energy as candidates for council.

What is “economic prosperity” in the Banff context?

Many of you participated in focus groups, interviews, or online surveys to help define “economic prosperity” as we see it here in Banff.  The results are inspiring, and you can read all about them, starting on page 101 of the package.  There are some really meaningful themes that are common across the different sectors, including a belief in the importance of being worthy of our location in Banff National Park. 

This report is coming for Council’s information.  Phase 2 of the Economic Prosperity project will involve a steering committee working with a consultant to craft an economic prosperity plan that reflects what people have said they want to see.

Transportation Master Plan – some recommendations

The TMP is a huge document, with many recommendations, but only the ones to do with traffic management and parking are coming to Council tomorrow (more will come later).  You can see the report starting on page 183 of the package.  It does a very good job of summarizing the recommendations, the reasoning behind them, the public feedback, and what the next steps might be.  There are a surprising number that could be put in place this summer:  turning lane changes at Banff & Buffalo, seasonal turning lanes at Buffalo & Bear, summer parking spots in front of the High School, a “scramble” intersection at Banff & Caribou, additional parking through angle stalls on Bow Avenue (100 block) and by the library ... and many more. 

The one recommendation that everyone wants to talk about, however, is paid parking.  Just as I said in this 2008 blog post http://www.lataylor.com/node/70 , I believe that paid parking is an effective demand-side parking management tool.  It seems incongruous that we ask people to pay to ride transit to our downtown, and yet we all pay through our taxes to provide “free” parking for private vehicles.  Parking technology has improved so much that we can be flexible with rates and possibly offer parking options to residents.  I think this recommendation is worth pursuing, and I will be voting to have staff bring back a further report on how this could be implemented.  If paid parking becomes a reality, I would love to earmark the revenue for transportation improvements.

THE FINE PRINT

As always, this blog post presents just my personal opinions.  It does not purport to be a communication from the Town of Banff or its Council.  I welcome your comments and questions, and I welcome new email subscribers ... although there will only be about nine more of these before the election.

 

Hello everyone:

My apologies for missing my “council email update” last weekend – I was out at the coast for a brief family holiday.  I do want to send you a quick reminder about tomorrow’s public hearing, at 1 p.m. in Council Chambers.

Here’s information from my March 24 update about the two Land Use Bylaw amendments that are being considered:

Bylaw on Transferability of Commercial Development Allotments

As you know, we have a commercial growth cap here in Banff.  Every so often, a lottery is held to give potential developers a crack at some square footage that will allow them to do their development.  Right now, unused Commercial Development Allotments (CDAs) expire after five years, returning to the Town’s “kitty”.  Meanwhile, there are developers who have part of the square footage they need for their proposed building, but no way (other than the lottery) to acquire more.  The proposed bylaw would allow CDAs to be transferred from a developer who is not going to use them to one who will. 

Bylaw on Transferability of commercial gross floor area

The transfer of CDAs is a transfer of potential, un-built space.  This bylaw proposes transferability of previously built space.  So, for example, if commercial space is demolished, or if a building that was commercial is taken over for non-commercial purposes (a government office, let’s say), then this bylaw proposes that the commercial space represented by that building should be available for transfer to another site. 

You can see the whole information package and the proposed bylaws at this link:
http://banff.ca/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/04252013-284

Tomorrow's meeting is for public input only.  The bylaws will come back to Council at a later meeting for consideration of second and third reading.

 

All the best until next time -- Leslie
 

Hello everyone:

What a difference a day or two makes!  Hard to believe that we were basking in sunshine just last weekend.  But this is perfect weather for reviewing the approximately 435 pages of documents that Council has for its Monday meetings.

FINANCE COMMITTEE

On Monday at 10 a.m., Council meets as the finance committee.  As always, this is a public meeting and you are very welcome to attend.  You can see the entire package for the meeting at this link:
http://www.banff.ca/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/04082013-275

The purpose of the meeting is to set new financial performance targets for the Fenlands recreation centre.  The proposed targets cover a variety of criteria – you can see them in the report that starts on page 5 of the package.  I’m pleased to see that the report refers to the balance between public benefit and the service levels expected by the community and the purely financial considerations.  Having said that, I will be asking whether we might reasonably expect more than median performance when compared to other communities, given that our facility is surely more than “median” in its quality.

As you may recall, back when this project was approved, the projection was that the operation of the renovated/new centre would cost taxpayers the same amount per year as the old one, while giving us more space and better recreation options (my recollection is that this figure was in the range of $350K per year in 2008 dollars, although I will have to check this against hard-copy council packages, as I’m having trouble finding the 2009 council packages on the website).  This was because the new centre would be more energy-efficient, less maintenance-intensive, and more attractive to paying users.  Council was then asked in May 2009 to approve an additional $2 million in borrowing for more additional space, with the rationale that this additional space would pay for itself in additional user fees.  You can see my discussions of all this on the 2009 entries in my blog.

Unfortunately, it looks as if the financial projections on which Council based its decisions may have been over-optimistic.  Although the new centre is already performing at close to the median level for comparable communities, if we go with the targets proposed in the report, the cost to taxpayers for its operation will actually be in the $450K to $500K range per year (2013 dollars).

There’s no doubt that the recreation centre needed to be renovated and reconstructed.  As much as possible of the old building was retained, an excellent job was done on the financial management of the construction project, and we have a new centre we can all be proud of.  I will be raising the point, however, that it would have been useful to include at least a brief reference to the history of these decisions in the “background” portion of Monday’s report.  Making financial projections is always difficult and hind-sight is 20/20, but when projections prove to be off course, we should always be transparent about that, and we should spend a moment thinking about what factors contributed, so that we can possibly avoid them in future.

MONDAY COUNCIL MEETING

Council meets at 2 p.m. on Monday, and we’d love to see you there!  You can see the entire package for the meeting at this link:
http://www.banff.ca/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/04082013-274

Here are a few highlights from the agenda ...

Land Use Bylaw variances

At Council’s last meeting, I gave notice that I would be making the following motion on April 8:
“that council direct administration that any report to a development approving authority that describes a proposed variance for approval must include clause 4.7.1. from the Land Use Bylaw, along with a description of how the proposed variance does or does not meet each and every sub-clause in 4.7.1.”

On Monday, I’ll be asking Council to approve that motion.  Clause 4.7.1 is the “variance test” clause – it lays out all the criteria that a variance must meet before being approved.  For example, a variance must be minor, it must not interfere with neighbours’ enjoyment of their properties, and so on.  I would like us to state specifically how these criteria apply, every time a variance is proposed.  The Land Use Bylaw is put together with a great deal of thought, and the “variance test” is there to ensure that we stay close to its intentions. 

Banff Centre radio

As you probably know, the Banff Centre is asking the CRTC to let them take over operation of English and French “Park Radio”, and add a third channel that concentrates of works produced by the Banff Centre.  As you can see on page 10 of the package, Council is being asked to send a letter of support.  I think this is a great idea!

Staff compensation:  external market indicators

For some years, Council has had a policy that we will pay Town staff at the 50th percentile level (compared to similar jobs in other municipalities and in the private sector), and that annual cost-of-living adjustments will be based on Alberta CPI changes.  In the report that starts on page 18 of the package, you can see where changes to that approach are being proposed.  Instead of comparing to Alberta CPI (which is a cost of living indicator), we would be comparing to actual labour costs, as reflected in various objective third-party indices and reports.  The report in the council package shows various possible sources of information, and asks for Council’s direction.  I’m inclined to suggest that we use an average of the various sources, but I want to check to ensure that this wouldn’t result in some costs.

Tunnel Mountain Pumphouse upgrades

Starting on page 23 of the package, you’ll see a report detailing some upgrades needed for the Tunnel Mountain pumphouse portion of our water system.  Apparently, we have equipment there dating from 1971 (I’m surprised, as I thought that the Tunnel Mountain pumphouse was installed after the 1983 “beaver fever” outbreak).  There are two options – do all the work required at once, or phase it out.  Given the impact on water rates (1/10 of 1%), I’m inclined to do it all at once.

Transportation Master Plan draft report

**You will really want to look at this one!** 

The Transportation Master Plan has the goal of making it easier for everyone to get around – drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, and delivery trucks.  It examines all sorts of ideas that have rumbled around our community for decades, plus many that are new.

Starting on page 27 of the package, you’ll see a summary of a much bigger report.  You can concentrate on the Reader’s Digest version of the findings and recommendations, which runs from page 28 to page 46 of the package.  Or, if you are a real keener, you can look at the whole plan, which you’ll find at this link:
http://banff.ca/documentcenter/view/1148

Just a warning – the whole plan is 25 MB, so it will take lots of time to show up on your screen.  But if you want to see the background on the recommendations, or the many ideas that the traffic engineers modelled, but did not recommend, this is your source.  For example, if you want to see what would happen if we made the 100 and 200 blocks of Banff Avenue into a pedestrian-only zone, you can go to page 69 of the full plan.  If you want to see what visitors had to say about parking in Banff, that feedback starts on page 12.  And so on.

However, if you have less time, please do at least take a look at the recommendations summary in the main council package.  It includes recommendations on traffic signal timings, a re-design of the intersection between the library and the post office, “scramble” phases for pedestrians at some intersections, changes to parking on Bow, Beaver and Buffalo and much, much more.  These will be coming back to Council early in May for some priority-setting, and you may see some of these ideas implemented in 2013.

Settlement services in the Bow Valley

Starting on page 48 of the package, you can read about what is being done in our communities to make New Canadians feel welcome, and help them integrate into our way of life.

ALSO ON MY COUNCIL CALENDAR THIS WEEK

Tuesday and Thursday:  working with Mr. Skinner’s Grade 12s on debating political ideas in the municipal setting. I always enjoy the chance to work with the high school students!
Wednesday:  the regular monthly meeting of the Bow Valley Regional Transit Commission
Thursday:  the twice-monthly meeting of the new Community Housing Strategy committee
Friday:  Banff Housing Corporation board meeting

ELECTIONS THIS FALL

Please keep in mind that our municipal elections are coming up.  If you’re thinking of running for council, I’d be happy to take you for coffee or lunch, to answer any questions you may have.  Serving on council is a big commitment, but it’s also a wonderful learning opportunity and a meaningful way to give back to the community we all love.  Please, start thinking about it now!

THE FINE PRINT

As always, this post presents my personal opinions.  It does not purport to be an official communication from the Town of Banff or its Council.  I welcome your comments and/or questions!  Or, if you want to be taken off my email list, just let me know.

All the best until next time -- Leslie

Hello everyone:

It was great to see so many people at Connect 2013 the other day.  Thank you so much for coming out and having your say!  I loved the idea of having all sorts of information and input opportunities in one place at one time, and I hope that this will become an annual event.  I think the only improvement I could suggest would be to consider having a supervised “play and pizza” room for young kids to make it easier for parents to attend.

COUNCIL TOMORROW

Council meets on Monday at 2 pm, and – as always – we would be delighted to see you there!  If you’re thinking that you might be running for council in the fall, it’s time to start attending a few meetings to get a feeling for the issues and the format.  If you’re not thinking about running, you’re still very welcome.  Remember, during every agenda there are two question periods in which people in the gallery can ask questions about the day’s agenda items.

You can see the whole agenda package for the meeting at this link:
http://www.banff.ca/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/03252013-273

Here are a few highlights:

Banff Ideas Bank

Kim Bater will be presenting the 50 best ideas from 2012.  You can see them starting on page 5 of the package – take a read, they’re inspiring!

Bylaw on Transferability of Commercial Development Allotments

As you know, we have a commercial growth cap here in Banff.  Every so often, a lottery is held to give potential developers a crack at some square footage that will allow them to do their development.  Right now, unused Commercial Development Allotments (CDAs) expire after five years, returning to the Town’s “kitty”.  Meanwhile, there are developers who have part of the square footage they need for their proposed building, but no way (other than the lottery) to acquire more.  The proposed bylaw would allow CDAs to be transferred from a developer who is not going to use them to one who will.  This bylaw is in front of council for First Reading.  Voting for First Reading does not mean that you support the bylaw, it simply gets the bylaw on the table for a public hearing (probably in late April) and further discussion.

You can see the report and the proposed bylaw starting on page 21 of the package.

Bylaw on Transferability of commercial gross floor area

The transfer of CDAs is a transfer of potential, un-built space.  This bylaw proposes transferability of previously built space.  So, for example, if commercial space is demolished, or if a building that was commercial is taken over for non-commercial purposes (a government office, let’s say), then this bylaw proposes that the commercial space represented by that building should be available for transfer to another site.  Just like the other, this bylaw is in front of council for First Reading.  Voting for First Reading does not mean that you support the bylaw, it simply gets the bylaw on the table for a public hearing and further discussion.

You can see the report and the proposed bylaw starting on page 27 of the package.

Closing retail doors in winter

This report (starting on page 37 of the package) asks Council to provide direction on the question of businesses leaving their doors open in the winter. Council gets comments from time to time about this environmentally unfriendly practice, and about how it affects our image as a town in a national park. The difficulty, of course, is that people who have worked in retail (I’ve asked quite a few now) agree that an open door brings noticeably more people in off the sidewalk. Weird, but true.  Another difficulty is that many retailers believe that the “air curtains” that they use at their doors result in an energy regime equal to having a closed door.  We’re having trouble understanding this, as it appears that the “air curtains” themselves must take up substantial energy to maintain.  However, it’s been difficult to ascertain the facts, until now.  This report proposes that we do an experiment with air curtains at our own public washrooms, where we have control over the doors and good, solid stats on energy use long-term.  You can see the report starting on page 37 of the package.

I’m not sure that I’m comfortable with this experiment.  After all, if what seems likely to be true actually is true, and air curtain plus open door still equals lots more energy use than closed door, then we will have used extra energy in order to prove that energy is being wasted.  And even if we have irrefutable proof at the end of our experiment, it’s not likely that that proof will lead to a massive wish for closed doors among the retail community.  I’m ready to listen to the discussion tomorrow, but I’m inclined to suggest that we should just go to work on what would be a reasonable temperature range for a closed-door bylaw.  However, the main difficulty would be the need for enforcement, as allowing a few businesses to flout the bylaw while everyone else complies would put them at a competitive advantage, and we would be creating an unfair situation.

Appointment of committee on council compensation

Ten kind-hearted, public-minded folks have stepped forward to volunteer for this committee, and council will be appointing five of them tomorrow.  Thank you so much to every person who volunteered!  You can see the report on page 39 of the package.

OTHER ITEMS ON MY COUNCIL CALENDAR THIS WEEK

On Monday, we will be meeting with S.Sgt. Brunner of the Banff RCMP to learn about crime statistics and to discuss the policing plan and priorities for the coming year.  On Wednesday, I will be attending the first meeting of the Community Housing Strategy committee – a new committee to bring together some of the major players in housing in Banff, focus our efforts and look for duplications and gaps.

Best wishes until next time -- Leslie