The Mayor of Red Deer County says residents can expect to see continued economic development and more work on addressing crime in 2018.
Jim Wood says the County is in good financial shape coming out of 2017 and he points to examples such as new businesses coming in as more positive signals moving forward.
“We’re seeing investment in Red Deer County, agriculture producers are doing well in Red Deer County,” says Wood. “It’s a good time coming out of a recession and being able to see the change in peoples' attitudes.”
Regarding that strong financial shape, Wood says it also comes from good governance and good budgeting over a number of years.
“What we’ve done in the past is we’ve consciously built up our reserves, which is our savings account to try to make sure that we can take advantage of opportunities as they’ve come,” explains Wood. “That allows us to be able to see growth happen at not a huge cost to our public. We’re going to take opportunities as they come forward in this upcoming year, and if prices don’t materialize like we think, well we just won’t spend the money.”
Wood adds however that he does expect to see continued savings this year, resulting in the County being able to double its capital budget.
“We’re planning on next year that we’re back to a little less spending, but this is a way that we can in fact see good value for our ratepayers,” claims Wood. “We know that if we’re going to have continued growth in Red Deer County, that we have to have good infrastructure and we’ve always made sure that it’s one of our priorities and it’s going to continue to be so.”
Wood feels it’s this way of doing business that keeps most County ratepayers happy with the work they do.
“We’ve had zero tax rate increases for the past three years,” he states. “We’re looking at very minimal rate increases on our residential taxes and we’re probably going to see some increases into our commercial side but that’s just necessary, we’re seeing a real change in our economy.”
Wood says the bottom line is to ensure their tax rates are competitive with other jurisdictions.
Another positive from 2017, according to Wood, was the successful co-hosting of the Agricultural Service Board Tour with Mountain View County, an important event for local producers.
“We were able to showcase the great agricultural operations that we have both within Red Deer County and Mountain View County and be able to have people come to us after and say ‘You guys have done an excellent job,’” says Wood. “I have to commend our staff that we have at Red Deer County to be able to work with so many volunteers and two municipalities to make such an important event so successful.”
October’s municipal election, according to Wood, was also a testament to how satisfied residents are with council’s direction.
“It’s the best way that we can measure our performance,” he goes on. “You know, we haven’t had a lot of change in Red Deer County, only one new face, but one thing about elections is that it does bring the issues to light.”
Like every other community throughout Alberta though, Wood says crime was the number one concern of County residents. “One of the biggest things that we learned through the election process is that people want to feel safe,” states Wood. “They want to make sure that the items that they own are still at home when they come home from work.”
“The last budget year, we actually placed money in the budget for a plain clothes police officer to work in conjunction with another officer that Lacombe County has paid for and through this process, we’re hoping that we can in fact, work entirely on crime issues and try to get to the root of the problem,” Wood adds.
Looking ahead over the next 12 months, Wood says the County’s plan will continue to focus on providing necessary infrastructure and enhancing relationships with their municipal neighbours. “We know that we’re going to have a new agreement with each and every one of them within the next two years,” says Wood. “We want to make sure that we’re in fact paying the correct amount for our ratepayers to use their facilities. We want to make sure that we have good arrangements and good relationships.”
The rising popularity of ride hailing services is also something Wood anticipates could continue to be on the radar in 2018, saying there’s been discussions regarding various taxi services, Uber and bussing within its municipalities.
“At this point in time, we don’t have any official agreements with our other neighbours, but we’re working towards solutions that will benefit us all.”
In terms of economic development, Wood sees a bright future locally with the upcoming Canada Winter Games in 2019, a possible terminal and parking lot expansion at the Red Deer Airport and perhaps a new low-cost carrier landing there. Landing the NFR in central Alberta would also be a coup for the region, says Wood.
“You know, that’s something we’re very excited about,” he exclaims. “It’s important for us to be part of these different events and try to promote them because all these events need municipal support for them to be successful.”
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