City council had a busy year in 2015 and Mayor Tara Veer is reflecting on the number of accomplishments and also challenges that were faced.
“One of the more symbolic highlights in 2015 is that we hit our 100,000 population mark,” said Veer. “As much as it’s just a number, in a lot of respects it’s not just a number in terms of our positioning in the province and in the country and potential for grant funding and in terms of our community identity – it really is a significant population threshold.”
Accomplishments for the City in 2015 include progress made in the Policing Plan which has five themes including reducing the impact of organized crime, reducing crimes against persons, reducing property crimes, contributing to safer youth and contributing to safer roads.
“In 2015 we publicly released our annual Policing Plan where we identified five key themes of local areas of enforcement and we have made significant progress on four out of five of those themes and are continuing to work on that,” said Veer. “Through ALERT and the Regional Taskforce, there has been 1,100 charges laid. With their focus on traffic safety they have made significant progress on that front and persons crime is also down.
“Property crime is up but we fully expect the more that we are enforcing, the more confident our public feels in terms of reporting. We’ll probably continue to see those numbers remain constant.
“Really the transparency of the annual Policing Plan and our cooperation on the Regional Task Force and with ALERT has been an absolute game changer on the safety front in the community.”
In terms of transportation, Veer said the City has also made an effort to make it easier for Red Deerians to move around the community. “We have made efforts to improve traffic flow throughout the City by moving forward with pilots on light timing,” she said. “We also had a roadway infrastructure deficit so in one year there were 14,000 pot holes to fill – we have tried to address that infrastructure deficit and also sidewalk connections with our transit as well.”
The City has also made headway with its Environmental Master Plan.
“We are in the first year of the organics pilot which really has significant potential for our environmental sustainability and preliminary feedback from the public has been very positive,” said Veer. “Expanding recycling has also been really well received and a long time coming.”
In the last 12 months, the City has also moved forward with the groundwork on Riverlands.
“Riverlands has been such a long standing community vision. We were literally laying the foundation for the Riverlands this past year – we buried the power lines and servicing and enhanced roadway access to the area. In 2016, we’ll see more development.”
Veer added another highlight for the City was the announcement of funding of the extension of the runway at the Red Deer Airport. “This of course positions us for the 2019 Canada Winter Games and beyond that in terms of our trade and distribution capacity in the region.”
She said council has also made efforts to being transparent in their budget process. “We also established the capital savings plan which allows us to plan for key, but high costing infrastructure. It will also protect our citizens in the short and long term against tax spiking.”
The past year has not been without its challenges on many fronts, and the City faced some challenges of its own as well.
“I think some of our challenges were that we had made considerable progress on the advocacy front with the former provincial government but because there were perhaps discussions underway that weren’t signed when the previous government fell, we essentially were faced with the need to brief the new government. A great example of that is the courthouse. We recognize in this economy the province isn’t necessarily going to invest in new courthouse infrastructure, but we were very close to at least having a decision on the land – we have the former RCMP building site as a municipal land holding as the ideal location for the courthouse, but of course that decision has since been deferred.
“I feel confident that we will arrive at the same point but we just essentially lost time.”
Another challenge this past year Veer added is the current recession.
“The challenge with the 2015 recession is that it came on very quickly, it’s a significantly deeper recession than we experienced in 2008. It’s also been coupled with two new governments which will respond with different economic policy than perhaps what we have experienced in the past. Our greatest challenge in 2015 and moving into 2016 is uncertainty.”
Looking ahead, Veer said some of the key areas for council will be further development in Riverlands.
“Depending on the economy, there might be some challenges in terms of market uptake. But we will start to see even further development of Riverlands particularly the trail linkage. We will see more public infrastructure upgrades in that area.”
She added council will continue on with the safety strategy. “We will continue to work on the Priority 3 police response. This has been a significant area of public frustration around the responsiveness in the Priority 3 areas and related to that is the continuum of enforcement that we have in the City and making sure when we enforce that we have the right level of position responding to the appropriate request from the public.”
The City will also undertake a new Emergency Services Master Plan, an update of the Environmental Master Plan as well as looking at stormwater infrastructure. Other initiatives will include advocating for a new courthouse to serve a region of 350,000 people, funding for the North Highway Connector as well as advocating for a Polytechnic University status at Red Deer College and continued progress on the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness and more focus on affordable housing.