Hello everyone:

I hope you all enjoyed the summer solstice!  Council has a heavy meeting load this week.  Today’s weather was perfect for reviewing a total of 234 pages of agenda package for Monday!


Council meets as the Finance Committee at 10 a.m. Monday in Council Chambers and – as always – you are welcome to attend.  You can see the whole package for the meeting at this link:
http://www.banff.ca/Assets/Finance-Agenda-120625.pdf   The two items on the agenda are ...

Fleet Capital Reserve

As you know, we are reviewing all of the town’s capital reserves to ensure that, as a community, we are putting away enough money to replace our capital assets when we need to, without nasty surprises for future taxpayers. 

How much do we need to put into a fleet reserve each year in order to make sure that we can replace vehicles and equipment as they reach the end of their useful lives?  You can see the report that analyzes this question, starting on page 4 of the package.  I was pleased to see that staff had carefully weighed the maintenance records of our vehicles and equipment, their expected cost recovery at the time of disposal, and used two different methods for calculating replacement cost.  The upshot of it all is that we are aiming at an average of 15 years of useful lifespan for our vehicles.  This will require an annual transfer of $359,000 per year to be fully funded over time, and we are within sight of that now with an annual transfer of $270,000.

Performance benchmarks

In order to be transparent and accountable, the Town is adding easily measured performance benchmarks to our service review system.  This means that you can look at a report each year and see how we’re doing on a range of factors, compared to how we were doing in previous years.  A report that starts on page 13 of the package shows you some of the benchmarks that will be added this year, and reports on benchmarks that we already have in place.  You can see comparisons to other communities’ results where we are able to access them.  (The reason you’ll see comparisons to Ontario is because they have a benchmarking system in place that we can access easily).   Just to give you a few examples of the numbers you can see in this report:
• The percentage cost of our benefits package (health, dental, etc.), compared to wages, is going up, in spite of the fact that we have cut back on benefits available to Town staff.  This appears to be an issue that many employers are facing.
• Our website use continues to climb, and is way ahead of OMBI (the Ontario average) and Whistler
• Our voter turnout is lower than in comparable communities
• Our fire department costs less to operate per person served than those in two comparable communities
• We have fewer transit riders per population than the Ontario average, but our ridership is increasing
• Our operating cost per hectare for “grounds” (gardens, parks) is higher than the Ontario average, and is increasing in the three years shown
• We’re landfilling much less waste per person (residents and visitors included) than Whistler, and our amount is decreasing
• Our energy use per person continues to slowly increase
• The percentage of our population that registers for community classes continues to slowly decrease
• Crime numbers are available only for 2008 and 2009 – in those years, we had higher numbers than the Alberta average
• The tourism marketing dollars spent per visitor varied from $1.30 in 2009 to $1.06 in 2010 to $1.18 in 2011.


At 9 a.m. on Monday, Council will continue its deliberation on Land Use Bylaw related items, including the required housing and required parking policies.  You can see the package at this link:  http://www.banff.ca/Assets/Special-Council-Agenda-120625.pdf  Feel free to join us in Council Chambers!


At 2 p.m. on Monday, we’ll roll up our sleeves for  a heavy agenda for the regular meeting of council.  You can see the whole package at this link:
and you’re welcome to attend.  Here are a few highlights from the agenda:

Grease traps

Read the report that starts on page 10, for more than you ever wanted to know about yellow grease, brown grease, and how they can clog the arteries of our sewage system!  Utilities staff are briefing council about a pro-active education program they want to undertake, so that staff in restaurants and other businesses can understand better how their grease traps work and how to prevent sewer clogs.  If you’ve ever seen the football-sized grease balls floating at the sewage treatment plant, or had your neighbourhood’s system blocked up by grease, you’ll know what a problem this can be.

Environmental rebates

The town offers rebates to residents and businesses that update their property with water-efficient or energy-efficient appliances and equipment.  Examples?  Dual-flush toilets, energy-rated dishwashers or refrigerators, solar hot water systems, programmable thermostats ... and many more!  Take a look at the report that starts on page 25 to see what’s offered and how some of the offers may change.  It’s interesting to see that we get the best bang for our rebate buck by helping to fund programmable thermostats.

There is a proposal in this report to change the rebate for solar hot water from $650 to $3000, because we have had no takers so far.  However, this would also involve capping the rebates to the first three homes that apply.  I don’t think this is a fair way to allocate public dollars – a lot of money to a very few people on a first-come, first-served basis.  I’d like to leave it at $650, but make sure that people know that this is available.  Or perhaps we could consider the higher rate for people who will commit to making their home a demonstration project that others can look at?

FCSS Annual Report

Starting on page 108 of the package, you can read about the many programs offered by FCSS, and how they are working with a multitude of partners to meet their goals and to support the people of our community.  Everything from the community greenhouse to the seniors’ bus to settlement services for foreign workers is in this report, and it’s pretty impressive.

The Railway Lands

Council is being asked to approve some options for public consultations about the proposed uses at the railway station.  When the Land Use Bylaw was being discussed, most members of the public were focussed on other areas.  But now there are major changes proposed for what that area might look like, changes that would result in a new commercial area in the town.  Council believes that people will want to be consulted about this.

Land Use Bylaw

Council will consider third reading of phase 2a of the Land Use Bylaw update, after hours and hours of discussion and amendments on second reading.  In these recent meetings, I have been on the losing end of lots of motions related to the Land Use Bylaw.  However, I feel that every item was discussed thoroughly, and that all councillors brought their carefully considered opinions to the table and listened with an open mind to everyone else’s opinions before voting.  So the system is working the way it’s supposed to.


On Tuesday, I’ll be attending a meeting about the Transportation Master Plan, along with a lot of people from various sectors of the community.

And dog owners will be pleased to know that the fence for the off-leash dog park is almost complete.  Councillor Canning has taken a walk-through and says it looks great.


As always, any opinions expressed in this post are mine alone.  This post is not a communication from the Town of Banff or its Council.  I welcome your comments or questions, and I’m always happy to add your friends to the email list.  If you’re just too busy to read these updates, let me know, and I’ll take you off the list (but I’ll miss you!).


Hello everyone:

Sorry to keep bombarding you with emails, but it seems as if lots of people are interested in information re the high water levels (I know I am!), so I hope you won’t mind a few extra messages during the run-off period.  This one, however, is just the regular council email update.

On Monday, council will have two meetings.


We didn’t finish debating the Land Use Bylaw phase 2a changes at the last council meeting, so we’ll be continuing that process on Monday, starting at 8:30 a.m. in Council Chambers.  You’re welcome to attend!  The package for the meeting can be seen at this link:


We still have to cover items such as bed and breakfast regulations, signage regulations, the height of buildings in the downtown, discretionary uses in the area around the train station, and our policies on required housing and parking to go with developments.


The regular council agenda is quite light on Monday (only 65 pages!!).  You can see the entire package at this link:


Here are a few highlights from the agenda:

Rocky Mountain Housing Co-op

You’ll all be familiar with the apartment buildings near the Recreation Grounds.  Since the earliest days of this cooperative (which provides 114 housing units for 18 different community organizations and businesses), the Town has provided a loan guarantee for the outstanding moneys owed by the cooperative, as a way of supporting this important staff housing initiative.  This doesn’t mean that the Town loans them money, or that tax-payers pay for any of their costs.  It just means that we enable them to borrow at the low interest rate that is available to the Town.  Council is being asked to renew the loan guarantee for three years.  This borrowing by-law will be subject to public scrutiny and comment before coming back to Council for a vote at a future meeting.  I will be asking for some updates on the current status of the RMHCA organization before we eventually pass this by-law.  You can see the whole report starting on page 7 of the package.

Non-resident business licences

Event-based businesses (such as wedding photographers) who come to Banff to do business from time to time are asking for some different  options for business licensing.  These include having single-day licences, and being able to pay for licences online.  The report that starts on page 17 updates Council on what is being done to explore these options.

Housing needs study

In a report starting on page 44, Banff Housing Corporation is asking Council to fund a housing needs study, to identify gaps (if any) between housing supply and demand in town.  Our last study was done in 2002.  The BHC has gone through a careful process to identify the questions that need to be answered, and to review proposals from potential contractors.  The $54,000 required for the study would come from the Town’s budget stabilization fund.

I expect a lively discussion about this one.  I strongly support the idea of updating our housing information before investing in a new housing project.  That’s because everyone I talk to tells me that “anybody knows” what the housing problem is – and then it turns out that each person has a different version.  Some believe that there is no longer a problem – that our housing supply has caught up with demand.  Others say we need seniors’ housing, or accessible housing, or managed housing for young, single entry-level staff, or starter homes for the first-time buyer, or move-up homes for the family looking for more room.  I have my own views, based on my own observations – but that’s just anecdotal.  I believe we need some concrete data to back up any future projects.

Settlement Support Services

An interesting report, starting on page 61 of the package, briefs Council on the changing nature of temporary foreign workers in our community, and how Community Services is working to help these new Banffites be successful and happy here.  There are many interesting points, but here’s one that stuck out for me:  In 2009, Banff Elementary School had 10% of their students as ESL (English as a Second Language).  In 2012, that has grown to 25%.  That one fact alone shows how quickly the changes are taking place.


As always, this blog post represents just my point of view.  This is not a communication from the Town of Banff or from its Council.  I welcome your comments and questions!


Hello everyone!

Hope you’re managing to stay warm and enjoy the outdoors, in spite of this somewhat unseasonable weather.


In this week’s Outlook, a letter made reference to a May 12 email to me, and suggested that I had failed to respond to one of the questions raised in it.

I responded on May 15, 16 and 18, and would be happy to share those responses with any of you who may wish to see them.  You have a right to see whether I am doing my job diligently, so please feel free to ask!  I continue to hope that you will ask me or another member of Council directly, if you have any questions about the sewer crossing or about the pedestrian bridge that Council is adding to it.

Council has a busy day on Monday with ...


The Finance Committee meets Monday at 10 am in Council Chambers, and you’re very welcome to attend.  You can see the entire package at this link:

General Capital reserve

Reports starting on page 4 of the package describes the value of land improvements (such as playgrounds and trails) and machinery & equipment (such as transit signs and office equipment) owned by our community, what the expected lifespan of these items is, and how much we should be saving in capital reserves for their future replacement.  Our recommended target is to be contributing $4 million annually to the general capital reserve, based on what we’ve seen in this report and the earlier reports on roadways and buildings. Fortunately, we’re fairly close to the necessary amount, and should be able to reach the right level of annual savings within the next five years or so.  Council will be asked to approve the target and discuss how best to ensure that we get there.

Keeping tabs on the budget

At the end of the first quarter, we were forecasting a small deficit of $44K at year-end.  Fortunately, we have three more quarters to make sure that we correct that and come in on budget.  That’s one of the values of paying public attention to these numbers each quarter – it focuses our efforts.  We’ll see the second quarter results and forecasting in August.  You can see all the information about results and forecast, starting on page 13 of the package.


You can see the entire package for the meeting at this link:

The meeting is at 2 pm in Council Chambers, and we’d love to see you there.  As always, there will be two opportunities to ask questions related to Monday’s agenda.  Here are some of the highlights from that agenda ...

Off-leash dog park

Nothing’s simple, as you’ll see in the dog park report that starts on page 10 of the council package.  Because of concerns raised by the environmental screening, the location will move slightly to the southwest of the original proposal, and the park may be 1.5 acres rather than 2 acres.  To get to 2 acres in the new location, we’d need an extra $10K worth of clearing and site work.  I’m inclined to stay within the original budget, but council will be discussing whether to add the money to ensure the 2 acre size.  I welcome your thoughts on this!

Land Use Bylaw, Phase 2a, and Parking and Housing policies

The bulk (and I do mean bulk!) of the meeting will be on this topic, which you can read about on pages 16 to 328 of the council package. 

This is the phase of the bylaw review that deals with matters in the commercial zones.  We won’t be talking about the formula-business quota idea – that will come back to council in June.  But we will be deciding on many other items including (among others):


  • Defining “liquor stores” and “night clubs” as unique uses, and making new ones discretionary, so that their impacts in a particular area can be considered.  I think this is a good idea, as the loading requirements of the former and the noise and spill-over aspects of the latter make these businesses worthy of attention.
  • Requiring anyone building or redeveloping in the downtown to meet only 10% of their parking requirements on-site, and requiring them to pay for the remaining 90% in cash.  I don’t support this.  I think 10% is too low, and that this will encourage larger buildings while leaving the community to pick up part of the tab on parking costs elsewhere (because cash-in-lieu doesn’t actually pay enough to cover the cost of providing a new stall).
  • “Encouraging” B&Bs to not put guests into below-grade bedrooms that have little natural light.  I think we should be stronger with this wording.
  • Removing the requirement for a spatial separation between B&Bs.  I disagree with this change – I think having a row of adjacent B&Bs would not be good for a residential neighbourhood.
  • Limiting hotels along the Banff Avenue strip to one free-standing sign along their entire frontage.  I’m not convinced that this is necessary, as I think our limits on sign size and materials keep the strip from looking over-signed already.  But I’ll be interested in discussing this with planning staff and my colleagues.
  • Making it possible for small start-up businesses to provide or pay for their parking and housing requirements over a three-year phase-in period.  I think this is a good idea, as long as we can ensure that we will be covered if a business changes hands.


There are many other changes in the bylaw that we will be debating on Monday.  These are just a few examples.  I hope you will contact me if you have any questions or comments about what you see in the package.

All the best until next time -- Leslie

Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!  The mother robin that nests on the carriage lamp by our front door is celebrating by incubating four gorgeous turquoise eggs.  I’m celebrating by reading my council package on the deck.


Council meets tomorrow at 2 pm, and you are very welcome to attend.  As always, there will be two opportunities in the agenda for anyone present to ask questions about items on the agenda.  You can find the whole package for tomorrow at this link:


Here are a few highlights from the package:

Tennis Court

Council is considering doing a full re-build of the Rec Grounds tennis courts (around $400K), rather than just a resurfacing (around $130 K).  You can see the report starting on page 29 of the package.  As you may remember from my last update, a complete rebuild would give us functional tennis courts for a lot longer, rather than taking a chance of frost-heaving and cracking again.  I would like to do a complete rebuild, but I’d like to fit it into our long-term capital plans, so I’ll be asking about the relative priority of other projects and whether fitting this in would cause unacceptable delays.


Three reports update Council on goings-on in Community Services. 

Starting on page 46, you can read about the Community Social/Recreation Assessment that will be done this year.  Community Services staff will work with the public and focus groups to identify key social and recreation issues and propose the best solutions.  A similar process in 2006 led to lots of great results, including the Affordability Guide, Banff-Canmore Community Bus, Low-Income Transit Pass, Community Greenhouse and Everybody Gets to Play.  The information also helps Community Services staff continue their great record of applying for and receiving provincial grants.

Starting on page 49, you’ll find information about one of those grants:  $39.9K to support expansion of the Get Out Program.  This is a drop-in program that offers social and recreational opportunities for kids and youth, both indoors and outdoors.  Thanks to this grant, more variety and frequency can be offered.

The Bow Valley Learning Council (formerly Bow Corridor Continuing Education Council) continues its great work, and you can read all about it starting on page 51.  Better yet, pick up a copy of their guide and sign up for a course!  You can find the course guide online at http://www.bowvalleylearning.ca/detail.php?course=all

2012 Tax Rate Bylaw

Council will be setting the tax rates for residential and commercial taxes tomorrow.  There are two key decisions to be made.

The first is the decision on the tax split.  This number establishes how much of our revenue will come from commercial taxpayers, and how much from residential taxpayers.  It is complicated, because our average commercial assessment has gone down again this year (by 2.51%) and our average residential assessment has gone up (by 0.32%).   Our financial plan identifies 4:1 to 5:1 as our ideal tax split range.  Last year, we went to 6:1, because otherwise the increases to residential taxes would have been huge, while relatively little relief would have been provided to commercial taxpayers.  Looking at the implications, I’m inclined to do that again this year. 

The second key decision is what do about the decrease in the education requisition that the province is asking for.  This year, because our overall assessment has once again decreased more than expected, the provincial levy for education has also decreased. Council's policy for several years has been to "occupy the taxing room" -- in other words, to keep charging the amount that would have gone to the province, and to dedicate the proceeds to our capital reserves. This is part of our plan to close the infrastructure gap, and to ensure that we have the roads, streetlights, playgrounds, vehicles, equipment etc. etc. needed for our community into the future. This year, however, the "taxing room" vacated by the province is $218K larger than expected.  Council will be asked whether we want to continue with the policy of dedicating this saving to capital reserves, or whether we want to forego that money.  I believe that we should continue with the policy – it’s prudent to save for future capital needs. 

If we have a 6:1 split and if we choose to follow council policy on the capital reserves, then the average homeowner will see an increase of 6.8% this year, and the average commercial taxpayer will see a decrease of 0.41%.  You can read all about this year’s tax rate factors and options starting on page 98 of the package.  There are charts that show you the implications of different tax splits and different capital decisions.

Smart Parking pilot project

Council is being asked to try out real-time parking information via mobile device apps. This is a way of matching parking demand to parking supply by helping people find the vacant spots without driving around – I think it’s a great idea.  The proposal is to try it for the Bear Street parkade this year, then expand it further if it works well.  I’ll be asking whether we could try it for the Cascade parkade instead, since that’s the one people seem to have the most trouble finding.  You can see the whole report (including a graphic representation of the system) starting on page 114 of the package.

Street lighting policy

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, Banff has a real patchwork of street lighting types, old and new.  This policy (starting on page 124) is an attempt to make sure that we will be more thoughtful going forward, and that we will design any new or replacement lighting to be environmentally responsible, dark-sky compliant, appropriate in intensity and uniformity.  It includes factors such as avoiding glare into neighbouring properties.  Banff’s streetlights are owned by Fortis (351 lights) and the Town (290 lights).  The changeover to a more modern system will be very long-term, but this policy is a good start.


Council will also be doing a workshop on Monday with a designer of skateboard facilities.  Town staff have asked several members of the skateboard community to also attend, so that we can all be informed on the latest trends in skateboard parks. 

Council will be meeting with the Library Board to talk about library levels of service and performance benchmarks.


As always, this email represents my personal opinions.  This is not an official communication of the Town of Banff or its council.  I look forward to your questions or comments. If you would like to be removed from this list, please just let me know.  If you have friends who’d like to join the list, I’d be delighted to hear from them!

All the best until next time -- Leslie

Hello everyone:

What an interesting week it has been.  It was great to see so many people out for the all-candidates’ forum on Thursday night!  I hope that we have a high voter turnout tomorrow.


For the provincial election tomorrow, you can vote at the high school between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.  For questions about voting:  www.elections.ab.ca


We’re working on a new street lighting policy.  You can find a link to the Town’s new GIS-based commenting tool here:

Having said that, I just gave it a try, floundered around a bit, and gave up.  To me, it doesn’t seem very user-friendly -- I’ll ask about this tomorrow at council.  But, in the meantime, have a go – you may be much better at this than I am!


Council meets tomorrow at 2 p.m. and – as always – you are very welcome to attend.   Every council agenda includes two opportunities for people in the gallery to ask questions about items on that day’s agenda.  You can see the whole agenda package for tomorrow at this link (it’s 9.8 MB, so will take awhile to open):


Here are some of the highlights ...

2011 Financial Results

You can see the town’s year-end actuals for 2011, starting on page 24 of the package, and the town’s audited financial statements starting on page 45.  Yes, I know that most of you will avoid these like the plague, but this is important information.  For example:

• The town was almost exactly on budget in 2011 – there was an $8K surplus.  There is a lot of background noise behind this overall figure – you can see notes for these variations on each page of the report.  (For example, we had to transfer $255K from our budget stabilization reserve to cover the cut in provincial funding for our RCMP, the hiring squeeze saved $182K more than Council had asked for in the budget, etc. etc.) 
• The town’s debt – incurred through major projects such as downtown reconstruction (a $22 million project) and the recreation centre (a $31 million project) -- is being paid off quite rapidly.  At the end of 2010, the town had tax/grant-supported debt of $17.5 million.  At the end of 2011, the town had tax/grant supported debt of $14.7 million.  The figure at the end of 2012 is budgeted to be lower yet again.  It’s good to see these figures in audited financial statements.

So, if you want the straight goods on where the town is at financially, please peruse these reports.  If you’re interested in historical comparisons, you can see the town’s audited financial statements going back several years on the website.

Farmers’ Market

Starting on page 104 of the package, you’ll find a report on the plans for the Farmers’ Market for this year.  The market will operate on Wednesdays from June 13 to September 12, and I know we’re all looking forward to it.  Council is being asked to allow additional event signage on market days – I am generally OK with what is being asked for, with the exception of proposed signage on the high school field fence.

Legacy Trail bridge options

Parks is extending the Legacy Trail at the Norquay entrance to town, so that cyclists can stay on a bike path from town out to Vermilion, rather than having to go on the road and make that somewhat hazardous left turn.  To tie into this, a ped/cycle bridge is proposed across 40-mile Creek.  The report (starting on page 150 of the package) shows options using re-used Glulam beams, or concrete, or fibreglass, or steel, or new Glulam.  We’ll be exploring the pros and cons in the meeting.  At present, I’m inclined to support re-using the Glulam beams in this new application.

Tennis court re-build

As I’m sure you all know, the tennis courts at the Rec Grounds are cracked and need repair or replacement.  These are the last two free, public courts in town – when I first came to Banff, there were eight!  The report recommends that we do a surface rehabilitation for $130K, but it’s risky, because the ground under the courts is prone to heaving.  The report says that the life of a resurfaced court could be anything from 3 – 15 years, and there’s no way of knowing for sure.  There is another option.  For $400K, we could do a total re-build, producing courts with an expected life of 30 years.  I would like council to explore and consider this option.  How much have we spent on skaters in town?  Surely we should give some consideration to what might work best, over the long term, for tennis.  You can see the report starting on page 169 of the package.


Starting on page 184, you can see a series of briefings to council about various programs:  the upcoming community social/recreational assessment, the grant funding for the Get Out program, and the work of the Bow Valley Learning Council (formerly the Bow Corridor Continuing Education Council).


At 4:30, council will take a break from the Council meeting to meet as the BHC shareholder.  You can see the package for the meeting at this link:

As always, this meeting is open to the public.  We’ll look at the 2011 audited statements (starting on page 4 of the package), the 2012 business plan and budget (starting on page 17 of the package), review the overall value of the BHC’s equity share in housing (starting on page 25 of the package), and update bylaws and policy to incorporate some new direction from the shareholder to BHC.  This includes direction to pursue rental housing, and acknowledges that the Town may pay for activities that it asks BHC to undertake for the benefit of the overall community.


Council members meet tomorrow with the Banff Lake Louise Hotel Motel Association to discuss a range of subjects of interest to the association.  On Tuesday and Thursday, we’re involved with a social studies project with the Grade 12 students.  Banff Housing Corporation Board meets on Friday morning.


It appears to me that sometimes the statement “you didn’t listen” is used, when what is meant is “you didn’t agree”.  It is possible to listen to someone, very carefully, even multiple times, and still not agree with them.  For example, any of you might have come to the all-candidates’ forum during the municipal election in 2010, you might have listened closely to what all the candidates had to say, and you might have decided not to vote for me (darn!).  That would *not* mean that you didn’t listen to me.  It would just mean that – taking into account what I said, plus everything else you’ve heard and experienced – you didn’t agree with me.  And that would be fine.


As always, this post represents my individual point of view.  This is not a communication from the Town of Banff or its Council.  I welcome your comments and questions. 

All the best until next time!  Leslie