Council update, 7 April 2013

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.


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:

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.


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:

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:

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.


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


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!


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