A relative newcomer will try to stake his claim to the mayor’s chair in Blackfalds this fall.
Gary Smith, a native Manitoban, moved to Blackfalds three years ago and says it’s time for change.
“Being a business person, a math and an accounting guy, I’ve looked deep into the numbers and some of the directional things as far as Blackfalds is concerned. It’s not so much about seeing a need for change,” he says. “The council right now, five of them have been on council for ten or more years and they’ve done a pretty good job of taking it from a small little town of 4,000 people to 10,000. Now, some of the long-term and financial decisions need to be made in a different way.”
The I.T. business specialist says he’s running on three pillars, the first being that Blackfalds needs to address how it plans to continue growing with such a small amount of land left to develop.
Number two for Smith is technology and incorporating what he calls money-saving ‘smart city’ tech, such as smart street lights.
“One of the problems with incorporating smart city technologies that municipalities have is you’re often dealing with old infrastructure – Blackfalds doesn’t have those problems,” he says. “For example, we repaved Broadway Avenue last year and then they had to dig it up again because of a water main leak. They actually brought in an outside company to find the leak and assess it. With smart city technology, when you do new infrastructure, you put sensors in these things.”
Smith also believes in a reinvigorated Broadway Avenue, a strip he describes as vacant.
“One of the things I’m hearing from people is that they need a little more business focus and the fact is that we need real jobs in Blackfalds -- a focus on long-term plans for attracting industry,” Smith explains. “You see the proliferation of businesses that opened up in Lacombe County enjoying the benefits of Blackfalds, but not being in the tax base of Blackfalds.”
Smith says the Town needs to take a different approach with developers, taking more control of developments instead of just waiting to see what gets built.
He cites the recent budget change forced upon Blackfalds town council this summer when Elkay Developments, who are in charge of the new Blackfalds Crossing, told the Town they were changing their proposal to include just two acres of commercial development instead of nine.
The Town was forced to cough up an additional $450,000 in off-site levies based off a previously agreed upon formula. Those dollars came from reserves.
“Let’s be honest, I drive to Red Deer for work, my wife drives to Lacombe for work, people drive somewhere else for work when you live in Blackfalds because there’s so little real core high-quality full-time jobs in Blackfalds,” he says. “Let’s get Blackfalds people working in Blackfalds.”
Also on Smith’s list of aspirations are developing more public-private partnerships, specifically in twinning the multiplex, putting a roof on the Abbey Centre’s outdoor area and acquiring an emergency health facility for Blackfalds. He adds Blackfalds is well-known for being highly taxed and addressing that would be a priority.
“Again, when it was 3,000 people and 4,000 people and they had to do that growth and development, it was brought along good,” Smith continues. “One of the things I’m hearing from people is that they need a little more business-focus.”
Current Blackfalds Mayor Melodie Stol, who has been in office since 2007, tells rdnewsNOW she will announce her intentions for the next election on Tuesday.