Ratepayers revived 0
About 100 people packed into the Hillcrest Miners' Club on June 13 to air concerns about the governance of the community and gauge interest in reviving the Crowsnest Pass Ratepayers' Association.
Moderator Bill Kovach said the purpose of the meeting was to reorganize the association through the sale of memberships and discuss issues facing the community today.
"From here, we'll make our common concerns known to the municipal council or to the administration in hopes of finding resolutions to many of the issues we're all facing here in the Crowsnest Pass," said Kovach. "We perceive this group as one that will have esteem and respect both by its members and of council."
The head table comprised Anne Whan, Elsie Linderman, Marilyn Milley, Marg Houda, Joe Fortunaso, Larry Ruzek and Rudy Pagnucco.
Started in 1983, the previous association had about 700 members, said Kovach, and was incorporated to "give the electorate a voice in working with the councils of that day". The organization was kept alive and "because of the present day concerns that we face, we want to reactivate the Association".
Members of the head table presented their concerns which centered on the current trend of increased municipal spending and hiring, increased taxes, and a lack of transparency and accountability by the municipality and council to its electorate.
"We are aware that because of our diminishing industrial tax base, municipal councillors are faced with a lot of daunting decisions. Attracting industry to the Pass is a formidable task when you have a population that is decreasing every year," said Kovach.
"We accept the fact that council has tough decisions and many deep-rooted local issues but it's the mandate of this committee to work with council to achieve some solutions to these issues."
"It is our belief that this is the time. when it would be more prudent to look for places to cut spending or at least keep spending steady," said Kovach. "Making our councillors aware of our accumulated concerns is a step in the right direction. They need to know what their electorate is thinking and how the municipal decisions are impacting our lives here in the Crowsnest Pass."
Kovach reiterated that citizens want to see accountability and transparency in how and why decisions are being made.
"We don't know why theses things are being done. They're just being done and we're being told they're being done."
"Above all we want to see debate on issues that concern us and our quality of life here in the Crowsnest Pass. It's good to debate and it's good to discuss whether or not everybody wants this."
Comments from those in attendance echoed these concerns.
Out of control spending by the municipality was on many people's minds and was a theme frequently raised.
"Ask yourselves, has anyone noticed any changes to the benefit of our community as a whole?" asked Marilyn Milley. "I believe that we are being governed by people, strangers. We have had no input and we have no rapport with our council."
Increased hiring at the municipal office was another common complaint, especially with a number of senior managers and consultants who don't live or pay taxes in the Crowsnest Pass.
"Some town employees don't even live here or pay taxes and they're telling us how to live," said one attendee.
The fire department was mentioned as an example of increased expenses without benefit to the community.
"Fire protection is going up almost $840,000 a year. Where is this extra money going?" asked Kovach. "If all this extra money is going to go to administration and it's not going to go to improving our fire control, I don't think that's right and they should be told about it."
Another issue that has caused considerable dissention was that of the new peace officer program. Concerns were raised as to why it was needed, why it required two peace officers, if Crowsnest Pass would continue paying for RCMP in addition to peace officers, and how citizens would be fined in order that the program pay for itself.
"The only way they can pay for themselves is to fine us, so we're going to get a lot more fines," said Kovach. "But the other thing is how much money are we saving?... I thought we had RCMP protection. So if we're going to have our own police officers, there should be some money coming back there. Here again, there's no transparency and there's no accountability."
"The $140,000 for two peace officers and vehicles, that's only the tip of the iceberg. There's secretaries, there's computers and most of all, there's litigation," said Ruzek. "Our council is not studying all these proposals. They're just going along with consultants and consultants will tell you anything, because they're going to get their money and run."
The lack of business development was a sore point as was the demolition of buildings with no return.
"Right now, who's going to invest in the Crowsnest Pass?" asked Larry Ruzek. "They knocked down the Maplevue Hall, the place has been on the real estate market and not one offer. The same thing's going to happen with the hospital. [Demolition] costs on that hospital are going to be enormous. We're getting snowballed here."
The municipality has acquired a poor reputation and lost its credibility, said one business owner.
"We've lost our community spirit and we want to get it back," said Larry Ruzek.
Several members of the audience cited their concern that there is a lack of transparency and accountability by council and administration, particularly over financial matters.
"Too many things are being hidden," said one woman, who said she was an accountant. "Is our council lying to us?"
The lack of precise accounting costs for Rum Runner Days was cited as an example of poor fiscal management.
Kovach said the association will make the membership's concerns known through delegations and public input at council meetings. He said a board of directors will be voted in and they will start to work immediately.
The next meeting will at the Blairmore Legion on June 28 at 7 p.m. followed by one at the Coleman Legion on July 5.