April 22nd, 2018

Coming up in 2018: Mundane, but necessary work at municipal level

By Medicine Hat News Opinon on January 4, 2018.

The changing over of the calendar will always bring with it some new optimism, a hope for better times, even an easier go of things.

But, with the bottles of bubbly now drained and confetti cleared away, the road ahead for City Hall shows a lot work on the agenda.

Mayor Ted Clugston ran a successful re-election campaign promising fewer big-ticket spending projects, and since the current year’s budget is set, there are not likely to be any introduced.

However, several large policy items in 2018 will build the city’s operating foundation for years to come.

It’s dull, nuanced stuff, but civic policies, programs and procedures are developed, implemented and then operated based on plans that include standards, strategic direction, and both aspirational and budget goals.

For several years, the budget has been front and centre. The effort known as Financially Fit for the Future aims to arrest costs, raise revenue to deal with a structural deficit at city hall. That work will continue.

But it’s squared against existing policies and goals, which has made new budget endeavours somewhat messy. For example, transit service levels that changed last fall (i.e. distances between bus stops and more) didn’t mesh with the existing standards. It’s not the only reason for the spectacular failure of the route changes, but administrators vow council members will have to approve new standards before they spend more time seeking cost cuts.

That won’t happen soon. The council group that was elected in October only goes into their strategic planning session later this month.

This year the city as a corporation will also rewrite its “Environmental Roadmap.”

Such a plan doesn’t affect the obvious items, such as the direction of the public utility, but land zoning and development requirements, building requirements for civic projects and a host of other programming decisions.

Even, gasp!, transit and transportation will be touched by the document.

It will also provide some bedrock for other overarching plans that will be built or updated this year, such as the Municipal Development Plan.

Smart city growth has been a key plank of the city’s crucial land planning document for a decade, but there’s been successive backtracking on density targets for new and existing neighbourhoods. All the while the chant for larger home lots has grown.

Looking outwardly, still to be determined is the level of cooperation going forward between the City of Medicine Hat, Town of Redcliff and Cypress County.

The long-standing Tri-area Intermunicipal Development plan will be reopened and possibly renegotiated by the partners after the province made such agreements standard across Alberta.

A garbage handling study, co-sponsored by the three local municipalities, is also coming and could likely result in major changes. It could result in a major multi-jurisdictional utility partnership. If so, it would be the first regional utility service in the region where Medicine Hat has traditionally seen itself as top dog in terms of utility service.

The city’s business units are also in the middle of developing new strategies.

We haven’t seen it yet, but an update on a now year-old oil exploration program is overdue.

Moderate profits are expected at the city’s power plant for 2018, but this year the province will lay out plans to switch to a capacity electricity market.

In the end, Clugston’s vow of fewer ribbon cuttings make be correct, but expect reams of draft regulations and public consultation — that will hopefully be paired with public engagement.

(Collin Gallant is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to http://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)

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