City vs. County: A tale of two municipalities

December 13, 2018 - 5:05pm

Looking at the rapid development throughout Gasoline Alley is evidence of how Red Deer County has been a major driver of growth in our region during a weak economic time. It is worth taking a few moments to commend Red Deer County and the incredible work they’ve done to grow in a fiscally responsible manner and recognize some of the decisions have led to this success.

Most Alberta rural municipalities are comprised of some combination of undeveloped crown land, agriculture, pasture, and perhaps some industrial space. Within just a few short years Red Deer County has transformed Gasoline Alley from a string of gas stations, fast food chains, and hotels to a hub of residential, commercial, and industrial activity which all complements some of the most productive farmland in the world.

As with the City, the County has an immediate draw area of around 400,000 people with access to nearly 4 million within a 2 hour drive. But it is what is unique about the County that has driven substantial growth especially in contrast to what we’ve seen within City limits recently. As the County develops and sells new land, the City is laden with significant commercial and industrial vacancy rates with plenty of unsold lots.

In discussion with businesses that have chosen to build or relocate in the County, there are two main reasons that come up, the ease and cost of doing business. In the realm of cost-benefit analysis, there are none more capable than accountants and accountants are choosing to relocate in Gasoline Alley en masse. Might even be worth considering renaming the area to Accountant’s Alley.

Similarly, it is common to hear builders and developers sing the praises of County officials when it comes to the processes of purchasing land, obtaining permits, and the ease of the regulatory rigamarole that businesses are subject to. This is incredibly important as the wait time and cost associated with regulations can be one of largest hurdles for development.

Undoubtedly there are unique advantages to consider when choosing where to locate a business or buy a home and not all levels of service are created equal. Some prioritize parks, green space, or recreation centres. Some focus on crime levels and the proximity to the seedy and less desirable aspects of our community, while others focus more strictly on the total cost and accessibility of parking.

With that said, Red Deer County has undoubtedly found a strong balance between offering quality services at a competitive price and the proof is in the pudding. Now that the County is home to most major amenities it is reasonable to expect this growth to continue with an emphasis on the residential side.

It is unfortunate that a portion of the growth and development in the County comes at the expense of the City but it is important to recognize the de facto competition that exists between the two neighbouring municipalities. Like business and sports, competition is a good thing and in this case, it will benefit the taxpayers, consumers, and residents of the City and County.

The next step for the City is to work towards creating and embracing solutions to address this development gap and there is no better place to start than adopting a competitive cost structure and streamlining the regulatory process.

The good news is that municipalities throughout Alberta are finding ways to become more efficient and lean-down their operations to reduce the tax burden on residents and business.  The City of Chestermere voted to reduce their tax rate by 2 percent by setting a strategic plan early in the year with that very goal. Likewise Grande Prairie is reducing the 2019 tax rate by 4.1 per cent so we know finding meaningful reductions to government spending that allows for more competitive tax rates can be done when there is will to do so.

Growth, development and investment attraction between the neighbouring municipalities is not a zero-sum game. What is good for the goose is good for the gander and both prosper when the other does well and each is responsible for doing their utmost to attract and retain people and business to their respective communities.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those of rdnewsNOW or the Jim Pattison Broadcast Group. Column suggestions and letters to the editor can be sent to [email protected]

 

Chamber Commentary
By Reg Warkentin - Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce

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