Cindy Jefferies, spin that wheel!

Today’s entry takes a look at the responses from mayoral candidate Cindy Jefferies. So far, Ms. Jefferies is the only mayoral candidate to have responded, and I should note that she’s the last one I sent questions to. Ok, that’s not entirely true; Chad Mason responded, but to ask me to only ask three questions. Still waiting on the nine I sent back as a compromise. Also waiting on any confirmation from the other candidates that my questions were received. After I sent them a week ago. I know they’re all busy, but at least some of the other, non-mayoral candidates have taken the time to let me know they got the them and will need some time to answer.

Anyway, with that, let’s have a look at Cindy Jefferies, your mayoral candidate’s answers:

What process would you use to prioritize items in the capital and operating budgets? 

For both the capital and operating budgets, I think council needs to begin by having a good sense of the community’s priorities and values. Council’s strategic direction guides our budget priorities. From there we need to clearly understand the options before us and the financial plans for each capital item. It is helpful to look at a longer range capital plan – our 10 year plans have served us well in the past.  Our new council will need to review and adjust priorities in that plan.  With respect to the operating budget, council really focusses on changes to the operating budget – additions or deletions.  Our administration team reviews the operating and capital budgets in more detail and ensures that they align with the council’s strategic direction.

Ms. Jefferies has served three consecutive terms on city council, so I’ve no doubt that she’s well in tune with how the capital and operating budgets are prepared and prioritized. An understanding of the priorities and values of the community are key to this, as are long range plans. It’s true that the new council will need to review and adjust priorities in budget plans, but I’d like to have seen a bit more insight into what exactly those processes are. How does council come to an understanding and consensus over what the community feels is a priority?

Reading the platforms of a lot of candidates shows a desire to prioritize budget items. So far, none of them have been able to explain exactly how they’d do that. Still, while Ms. Jefferies didn’t list an actual process, with three terms of experience on council, recognizing priorities are built through the community, and that long range plans are needed in addition to short term reviews, she’s demonstrated much more innate knowledge about it than anyone else.

One thing I think should be communicated more clearly by all candidates is what they would actually undertake to prioritize budget items. Simply saying that they’ll advocate for a review of services, or generally including “budget prioritization” in their platform doesn’t help voters understand how the city’s finances will be handled. I think the first candidate to clearly and concisely say, “I would prioritize the capital budget by… I would review and prioritize the operating budget by…” would see a lot more support go their way.

If funding requests from other levels of government were denied, which alternative sources of income or funding would you pursue?

I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen, but if it does we would need to focus in on areas of land development where we can intensify the land use and increase tax revenue from areas like the Riverlands, Railyards and any brownfield sites in our city.  We can also look to community funding for capital projects.  I have been thinking about and talking to a few people about forming a community group that would lead a capital funding program for some of our much needed community amenities like a 50m pool, performing arts space.

Two ideas are presented, both are viable. Obviously, development of more land would lead to more property taxes going to the city. Obviously, this wouldn’t be a rapid source of tax revenue, but it would be a large, sustainable tax pool once all developments are completed, buildings/services are up, and people move to or use the area. The second idea would pull capital funds directly from the community. I can see people being against this for the simple reason that they’d question what their taxes are being spent on if there’s now a request for funds that are essentially donations to the city. It’s a fair criticism, and one that fiscally focused community members and councillors would fawn over, but on the flip side, it offers the chance to directly contribute to a capital project that could improve the quality of life in the city. I don’t think it’s a far fetched idea, and I think it’s something that should be considered further. If the Girl Scouts can sell you on the idea of buying their delicious cookies to fund their troop and activities that you won’t be able to take part in, why would it be such a stretch for the city, or any city for that matter, to try to sell you on buying on contributing something to fund a project that you could make full use of? The example of the 50m pool would work here. What if you put the names of everyone who contributed to the capital fund on tiles that ringed it? Everyone loves seeing their name on something, it gives you something to show off and be proud of.

Please provide two examples of short term debt reduction strategies you would like to see undertaken by the city.

I am not convinced we are wise to reduce our debt at this time.  Our debt levels are well within the limits imposed by our council and the province. We also have a sound plan to pay our debt back.   While I understand the concern for our use of debt, we have debt in order to build critical infrastructure like water and waste water treatment plant upgrades, I believe there is sound reason to use debt responsibly and spread the cost and benefit of an asset over its lifetime allowing those who benefit to help pay the cost.

Of course, council could choose to increase taxes to help pay the debt down quicker. I am not sure that would serve us well either.

Here’s where Ms. Jefferies is at odds with a lot of other candidates. An open admission that debt reduction isn’t something the city should do right now. Were we in the US, the Republicans would be in a frenzy over this and probably threaten to shut the government down over it. Man, that sounds familiar… Yes, debt can cause many problems if it accumulates. On the other hand, if you could purchase materials for a project at a cheaper rate now and go into debt for it, rather than wait to start and pay higher later, wouldn’t you try to take advantage of that? If you’ve ever renovated a room in your house, and bought all your material with your credit card because it was all on sale at the Home Depot, you probably recognize that that was beneficial. The room is more useable and looks better, and you paid less to have it sooner, than pay more to have it six months down the road. The waste water example provided by Ms, Jefferies is exactly the same. Use debt to build it now, or wait until the system has degraded further, has to serve more users and build it at a higher cost. I’d rather have cleaner water now than boil my water every time there’s a thunderstorm because the city’s water treatment infrastructure wasn’t upgraded to handle it.

There are two key considerations brought up as well; responsible debt, and the riskiness of tax increases. On the one hand, you have to use debt to pay for large projects. Some people are not ok with this. On the other hand, you could avoid debt and raise taxes to pay for it. I bet more people would have a problem with that.

Please provide two examples of long term debt reduction strategies you would like to undertaken by the city.

Active advocacy to the province and federal government to define and agree on the roles and responsibilities of urban municipalities and a reallocation of tax revenues to better reflect where the services are being provided. Consideration of better funding equity between urban and rural municipalities.

I can see how lobbying the provincial and federal governments for tax income reallocation or redistribution would be beneficial, but in terms of Red Deer as a single entity, I’m not sure this is a solution for its own debt reduction plans. I’m also not sure that funding equity between urban and rural municipalities would help. If the goal there would be to provide rural communities funding comparable in percentage or ratio to that received by urban communities, I think Red Deer would be lumped in as an urban center. In either case, you’d need cooperation from several communities in the province to have enough lobbying power for either the provincial or federal government to pay attention. I also think that Calgary and Edmonton may be a bit reserved about changes to funding that may see some of their monies being reallocated to smaller communities.

Yes, Red Deer does have a debt repayment plan and a payment reserve, but exploring or identifying other options should be looked at.

Please identify three ideas or policies you would like to see implemented to attract more business to Red Deer.

This is one of the areas that excites me the most – we need to invite people into Red Deer, both businesses and tourists.  Better signage would be a good start and a strong voice telling the story of Red Deer and our success stories.  We have created a very favourable business climate in Red Deer – we need to continue to work with our existing businesses to help them turn opportunities into reality and we need to be promoting our city -especially the fact that we are within a 2 hour drive of 85% of Alberta’s population. Our new economic development charter will take us a long way on this front.  I am also looking forward to the completion of our Residential and Retail Recruitment Strategy for our city centre – that will help us identify and encourage new business development.

The identification of tourism as business that should be attracted to Red Deer is something that no other candidate has alluded to yet. I think the bulk of candidates who are advocating for more business in Red Deer are focusing on a building in town, that hires locals to work in it. Tourism is a business, ask any resort town in Alberta. In 2006, tourism spending in Central Alberta alone was around $640 million. Province wide in 2010, $5.5 billion was spent by tourists. Those aren’t easy numbers to ignore. Tourists are a huge business in Alberta, and it’s good to see that they’re being acknowledged. I’d asked that a number of ideas or policies be identified to attract more business. Initially, I was of the mind that Ms. Jefferies hadn’t done that in her answer, but then I remembered she a three term councillor, and there’s a good chance that many of the ideas and strategies in the Economic Development Charter and Residential & Retail Recruitment Strategy had direct involvement from her. In that light, I’d say that there are ideas she’s contributed to the city that actually are being implemented. One criticism I do have has to do with signage. I’m not sure that better signage would attract more business in measureable amounts. Stories of success only go so far before they’re just those signs that you see the odd, old tourist couple stop at to read.

Should more focus be placed on attracting business to Red Deer proper if it has the bulk of amenities in the area, or should this be a collaborative effort to include surrounding communities, even though they may not have the amenities businesses need?

I think it is a bit of both.  We certainly have good reason to work as a region on many fronts – particularly when we think of regional services.  Strong regions with good regional services results in a strong province.  Obviously we need to maintain a healthy offering of services in our city as well. Partnerships based on good relationships and a shared vision for the region will help us move forward.

I tend to agree that it would be beneficial for central Alberta if this were pursued. Yes, Red Deer is the largest local business center and economy in central Alberta, but Ms. Jefferies is right in saying that a strong region can offer strong services and contribute to a stronger province. Why sequester the city from other communities if business can be shared and flow between them? This spreads the benefits across the region, which would undoubtedly contribute to a regional vision as she’s alluded to.

The bike lane project remains controversial in the city, yet Red Deer received a national sustainability award for them. Would you consider re-examining the project to determine how it could be improved with less of an impact on vehicle traffic, or should the lanes be removed entirely and the project considered completed?

There is no doubt we could have done things better with the bike lane pilot project.  If we could start over we would do several things differently: communication, timing and execution for starters.  However I do think there are good reasons to keep trying.  For me, it is the bigger picture – health, promoting active transportation, providing a viable alternative/ choice, making our city more affordable, and building our city in a better way so we don’t end up with congestion like Calgary and Edmonton experience.  I think we need a strong network that allows cyclist to connect north to south, east to west through our downtown core.  Bike lanes don’t need to be on every road.  We also need to work on our attitude and acceptance of cyclists in our city.  I would also love it if we could have great regional trails (progress is being made) I want to be able to bike to Sylvan Lake, Lacombe, Delburne, Innisfail, etc.

It’s refreshing to see such an open admission that things could have been handled better with the bike lane project instead of a hardline approach either in favour or against. I tend to agree with the reasons behind why Ms. Jefferies thinks bike lanes are beneficial. I also agree that bike lanes don’t need to be on every road. Of course, they’d still have some impact on traffic on the ones they were on, but if the lanes had been laid down to maximize use over a minimal amount of roads, I think there’d have been a bit less opposition. That said, I think it’ll be a long time before the population of Red Deer actually has the patience to try another bike lane project. I don’t think Red Deer is dense enough to make anyone really change their attitude about them yet. I like the idea of regional trails, but I think that’s a bit beyond the scope of the city and would require land owner and provincial input and cooperation to actually take shape.

What two capital projects aimed at social infrastructure would you like to see pursued by the city that are not currently underway?

Let’s figure out a way to build a 50 m pool and a new centre for performing arts.

Both are projects I think would be valuable to the quality of life in Red Deer. The only opposition I can see are people who’d say to use the College’s performing arts facilities over building a new on.

How would you promote an increased use of public transportation in the city?

This is a priority for me.  We need to increase frequency and expand our hours.  We have a new transit manager and he has some awesome ideas for improvement.  I am happy we have regional transit starting.

Increased frequency and expanded hours are good ways to make the system more efficient, but improvements to the system only go so far in promoting the use of public transit. Granted, if the city’s transit system can be improved enough that people actually take note it how good it is maybe it would encourage more people to use it. However, I think in terms of promotion that would only go so far. I think something that should be considered is actually showing people how much transit use would save them over private vehicle use in a year, even if it’s not based on full time use.

You’ve stated that having more variety in housing would allow people to find suitable housing within their means, and that attainable housing can be accomplished through improvements to neighbourhood design and style options. How will you address cost of living in Red Deer as a factor in home buying?

When we offer different styles of housing we can provide a bigger price range.  Not everyone wants a 3000 sq. ft home with a two car garage.  We see strong demand for smaller apartments/ condos with good transit access. We also know that by working with our developers we can choose to build roads and lanes, design neighbourhoods that use land more efficiently and reduce costs (building slightly smaller roads = savings).  Increasing density while paying attention to design and aesthetics and creating great public spaces within those areas helps maintain affordability and adds to our quality of life.  Providing the ability to live nearby the things you access daily also improves affordability and reduces our car trips.

It’s true that not everyone wants a giant house with a double car garage, and it’s true that with a wider range of housing options, then a wider price range will follow. I also agree that properly planned population density can be achieved with very good aesthetic and design. Multi-use buildings are something that should be looked at more in Red Deer. I think it would hugely beneficial to have a four or five story apartment or condo unit over top of some businesses. More apartment and condo buildings would go a long way to building up the density that would be needed to support this type of shift in living. However, construction trends in Red Deer don’t necessarily reflect the demand for this. The 2013 municipal census found 21,480 single detached houses and 8,580 apartments. There are actually nine types of dwelling identified in it, but for simplicity, we’ll stick with single detached and apartment. The 2006 federal census showed 16,730 single detached dwellings and 7,980 apartments. This gives us 4,750 more detached houses in 2013, but only 600 new apartments. It’s the same thing with town/row houses: 3,285 in 2006 increasing just 415 in 2013. Yes, there’s demand for them, but not enough to push construction of them higher or faster it seems. That said, I do think these kinds of dwellings should be built up in Red Deer, especially closer to the college and the Railyards. Building them close to the college and downtown would provide easy work and education access for many people. The difficulty with promoting smaller and denser dwellings might be in convincing developers to design and build neighbourhoods where they may not make as much money.

What options would you pursue if housing development companies lobbied against any changes to current neighbourhood and building design?

I think we have to work together, understand our respective roles and responsibilities and goals and share a vision on what we want the communities we build together to be like today and 50 years from now.  Encouraging responsible growth is important.

The city and planners and developers co-operating would go a long way to building efficient neighbourhoods, but that’s not an option if they’re lobbying against changes to planning and building characteristics. Yes, encouraging responsible growth and design is important, but citizens concerned about sprawl and sustainable communities deserve to know how a developer would be convinced to do that. How would consensus be built with one or more developers who want to follow a different path than what the city wants?

Would you support contracting out snow removal services to either complement current city efforts or completely replace them?

We currently contract quite a bit of this work.  I think it is important to have some city equipment and staff.

I wasn’t aware that any of it was contracted out, and I think most people would be surprised to know that too. Ms. Jefferies is the first candidate to acknowledge that the city already does this, which I think speaks to the fact that many candidates are promoting changes to a city service without fully understanding it. Now that we know the city already does contract out some snow removal, the question can turn to, “how can it be made more efficient?”

Would you support contracting out services for pothole repair and prevention, or should this be the sole responsibility of the city?

We currently contract some of this work out.  Like snow removal there are good reasons to have some capacity within the city.  To be honest I would need to get a better understanding, to determine if I thought we needed to change our current practice.

Like snow removal, I didn’t know that any pothole work was contracted out. I’ve only ever seen city vehicles at repair sites, so it’s easy to see why most people would assume no contract work is done. The same question as snow removal above applies; how can the work that’s contracted out be made more efficient or changed? I’m also a bit surprised that, as a three term councillor, Ms. Jefferies admits that she needs to understand the way in which pothole repairs are planned and contracted. These are an annual concern, and it’s odd that it seems current practices haven’t been reviewed in more detail.

Do you support the current plans for the Taylor Drive/Ross Street re-design, which critics have said will result in increased congestion, or should an alternative plan be examined?

Its a complex problem.  Trying to meet the needs of cars, pedestrians and create good access to the Riverlands area is important.  The solution we have means we compromise access to Railyards somewhat, but I understand some changes have been suggested that may help alleviate those concerns.  Improving pedestrian access and safety is paramount.  The main traffic flow improves in the current proposal.

In case you’re curious, the full traffic report that shows the design plans can be found here:

If you read it, you can appreciate the truth in the statement that it’s a complex problem. If you don’t read it, then you can fairly assume it will cost a lot of money, but you won’t know why. Based on her response, I’ll assume that Ms. Jefferies is in favour of the plan, and recognizes that the re-design is the best solution that could be found. The suggested design affects more than just the actual Taylor/Ross intersection, and I’m starting to wonder if critics of the re-design are taking that into account or assuming that the price tag is for that intersection only. I’m also wondering if they’ve considered that this traffic study tries to account for another 80,000 people in the city and that you need to plan infrastructure taking that into consideration.

Should Red Deer place any focus on sustainable energy programs or projects that may not see immediate benefits, but would see long term energy costs for residents decrease?

I think we always need to be considering doing things in a better way.  We are looking at doing a district energy plan for the Riverlands area.

There’s not much of an answer in terms of the question given. Considering doing things better could mean improving current energy programs, or looking at new ones. I think more details about the district energy plan for the Riverlands area would have been good. Is it an energy project that could be expanded to be used in other parts of the city?

What methods or plans would you put in place to improve communication between the city and residents?

This is also a big priority for me.  Using social media is critical – I have seen how well Nenshi uses it in Calgary and I am sure learning how helpful it is in the current campaign.  I think we need to be out talking about what we are doing taking advantage of every medium and every opportunity to share information on what council is doing and why and the direction and results.  For sure, we can do a better job.

As an individual, Ms. Jefferies has a very visible social media presence, and I’m confident that she realizes its importance in municipal politics and communication in our current technological environment. A mayor who is as confident communicating in person as they are online will greatly expand their reach to citizens. She states that the city needs to be talking to citizens about what’s going on using every means possible. I think this is a good goal to give the city. Yes, it does use traditional and new media to communicate to residents, but there’s definitely room for improvement. Case in point, there was a brief post on the city Facebook page about winning the sustainability award for the bike lanes, whereas not a peep was made on Twitter about it. Another example (again dealing with the bike lanes) were the reminders for residents to fill out the feedback survey. There was no link provided, and few of the messages said it was on the city website. These are small communication issues that can have large impacts in the long run.

I’m glad to see Me. Jefferies state that all types of communication should be improved by the city, but I’m left wanting some more details as to how this would be achieved. Would there be mandatory social media training for city employees? Would multiple social media pages and sites be set up to deal with projects and departments?

Are policing and crime prevention interchangeable, or are they two different approaches the city should be using?

I think they are connected and both parts are important to having a safe city.  We need to be doing both. I think this council has just completed some important work on our policing service standards and expectations with our RCMP – I am hopeful we will begin to see the results of that work soon – change takes some time – good work is being done.

It’s important to note that Ms. Jefferies is in favour of both approaches and that they’re connected instead of two different methods that are done separately. This provides a multifaceted approach to crime reduction in Red Deer as opposed to candidates who are in favour of simply seeing the police increase enforcement. You can’t solve the consequences entirely without solving the symptoms and causes. She’s also right in saying that change takes time; any changes to policing and crime prevention in Red Deer won’t be like flipping a switch. Residents need to realize that improvements to safety and crime reduction will take time to become clear, especially since not all types of crime can be treated or prevented using a single catch-all method.

Do you feel that direct enforcement would lead to reductions in crime in Red Deer versus community and social engagement with those more susceptible to crime?

This is a big question on a complex issue.  In the long run I believe community and social engagement, when done well, has longer lasting impact and results.  Direct enforcement might make some of us feel better but it doesn’t solve the problem or prevent it from happening again.

As above, Ms. Jefferies recognizes the complexity of the issue and supports investment in social solutions to crime in addition to direct enforcement. Stating “direct enforcement might make some of us feel better” is exactly right; the visual of police arresting drug users or car thieves gives people immediate satisfaction knowing the police are doing their job. She’s also right in saying direct enforcement alone won’t solve the problem or preventing it from happening again. As stated above, consequences can’t be solved without dealing with the causes.

How and where would you suggest social housing be built in Red Deer to serve low-income families or individuals?

I would like to see us take an approach like Vancouver has with housing to serve low income families or individuals being everywhere – not congregated, but integrated.

Much like Paul Harris’s approach, Ms. Jefferies advocates for integrating low income individuals or families into areas with higher income families to avoid creating artificial areas of low income earners. I think it is an approach that should be taken, or at least tried in Red Deer, but I still think there needs to be more discussion about what areas of the city would be best suited for this approach.

1 Thought.

  1. She made some great comments – just to quickly comment on amenities – the arts centre at RDC is crazy busy! That was the thought behind purchasing new space downtown for large gatherings. I never understood why the main stage wasn’t used more until I talked to someone at the college and that place is booked 12-18 months in advance for many functions. I think a new space might be important. It is also probably important for Jefferies to stress that this could be multi-use or multi-function.

    Good read.

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