Mayor Tara Veer sat down with the Red Deer Express to go over 2017, a year, like many, that’s had its challenges and opportunities.
“Looking back at 2017, I think from the community’s perspective it was a challenge on a few fronts, and I would say the themes of those challenges are with respect to the social challenges we’re faced with as a community and certainly the continuing state of the recessed economy,” said Veer.
She added that with respect to the economy from a City perspective, it was one of the most difficult budgets they’ve had in recent memory, which was because of the fact that revenues are down across various City operations.
“We continue to have very high unemployment in the community, although part-way through 2017, the unemployment did go down from 10 per cent in the year prior to 5.8 per cent, so certainly it’s trending in the right direction.”
She said they’re trying to lead their organization and community highly mindful of the fact that 5.8% of the population continues to remain unemployed.
“From a social perspective, there’s multiple fronts on which we were challenged. Community concerns for public safety and crime rates continue to be a concern.”
Veer said in 2017 the opioid crisis and shelter capacity were a reflection of the economy, and were a challenge for the City, and a challenge for it to exercise leadership in.
Even though it was a short stint, the wind storm of June was a significant challenge for City operations as well. Clean-up efforts for the storm continued into the fall.
Veer then spoke of the accomplishments the City has had over the year, the big one being the marketing launch for Capstone at Riverlands.
“Riverlands is a vision that’s been 20 years in the making for our community and now that the services are in, the roadway accesses are present and the power lines are buried, the City finally reached the point after that vision 20 years in the making where we could prepare those lands to go to market where the community will then see the return on investment.”
Another highlight, she said, was the provincial government’s announcement to build a Red Deer justice centre.
“The need for expanded courthouse capacity has been a longstanding advocacy issue of Red Deer City council and the expansion of the courthouse is a critical component of our community safety efforts in light of concerns around the Jordan decision and charges potentially being stayed if there is not timely access to justice,” she said.
On an infrastructure note, there were some positive accomplishments over the year with new schools opening, along with new fire halls and the Asooahum Crossing’s first phase of their long-standing vision.
“I think another highlight in 2017 was the partnership around the former Central Elementary School. That was a partnership broker between the Canada Winter Games, the Red Deer Public School Board and the City,” said Veer.
She added that because of that partnership there’s a heritage building that will not only be preserved, but the City will completely revitalize that part of the downtown.
Looking ahead into 2018, Veer said the two great challenges that they were faced with in 2017 are bridging over into 2018, number one being their social challenges with respect to crime and public safety.
They also are faced with the many social challenges as a result of, for example, the opioid crisis and insufficient shelter capacity in the community.
Come the New Year, council will deliberate the 2018 Operating Budget.
“Looking at that budget we continue to realize the ongoing effects of the recession, and revenues to the City are down. We are concerned about the overall assessment base, and so all of those have financial impacts for the people of our community.”
She said in looking ahead, the City’s advocacy priorities before the provincial government will continue to be the need for a polytechnic university status for Red Deer College in support of the local economy, the infrastructure expansion of the Red Deer Regional Hospital and the request for Red Deer to have sufficient shelter space to help resolve their social challenges.
“I think it’s important to note we have a new council, and so with our new council we are currently in the process of preparing our new strategic direction.
“This will set our priority areas for the upcoming term that the community has given to us and then once we see adoption of that strategic direction we’ll start to move towards implementation of those plans and affect transformation in those areas identified as a priority by our community.”