CANMORE – From increased bus service in the community to Main Street pedestrianization and two planning matters and a new full-time planning department position, Canmore council will have more to analyze before the 2022 operating and capital budgets are passed.
Among the recommendations from the Town’s finance committee is a call for $138,000 from paid parking revenue to be used to increase weekday service for Roam transit in Canmore to 35 minutes. An increase in Sunday bus service will also be looked at by council, with $50,000 coming from paid parking revenue if it gets the go-ahead.
“We need to have the service in place to get the ridership, and if we don’t have the frequency, we don’t have the ridership,” Coun. Tanya Foubert said in bringing forward the motion on increasing weekday service.
“I believe the service level needs to increase. I think we have a really good business case. Even the surveys that the (Bow Valley Regional Transit) services commission support will lead to the success of the service.”
The existing system has a bus between 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. provide service every 70 minutes in Canmore, while two buses operate from 6:30 to 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 to 7 p.m. every 35 minutes.
Statistics from the Bow Valley Regional Transit Services Commission (BVRTSC) show demand isn’t as high during the peak morning and evening hours, but averages between more than 500 to about 750 riders each hour. The peak ridership time is roughly 4 p.m. when there are nearly 1,250 riders.
An August report from BVRTSC highlighted a 2014 Hargroup study that stated an increase in service was the “most desired service enhancement to gain potential ridership.” The report noted Roam transit has increased service since the study, but the Canmore route has maintained the same hours – though it is notably free to ride in town.
“There’s so many reasons to support Roam and increase transit service on weekdays in our community,” said Foubert, adding the success of the transit system further adds to aiding in affordability in the community.
Coun. Joanna McCallum, who is the chair of the BVRTSC, added the increase was going to be considered in 2020 prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I believe frequency will feed the success of Roam. … We know that traffic congestion will continue as the province tries to grow tourism in our community and double it,” she said of the last provincial budget that wants to increase tourism revenue to $20 billion annually by 2030.
“To do that, we need to bring on tools that will assist us in moving people around our community. Not just locals, but also visitors.”
While transit received significant attention, a pair of planning projects was also recommended for council’s decision to move forward.
The downtown area redevelopment plan capital project would be funded from the general municipal capital reserve at $160,000 and the Palliser area structure plan would have $100,000 come from the same reserve if council approves the recommendation.
“Affordable housing is one of our No. 1 priorities. I suspect it will be No. 1 when we come out of strategic planning,” said Mayor Sean Krausert. “In order to do that, we need to have the plans laid out for where housing can go and Palliser is one of the key areas. We can’t move ahead with any development until this is done. Putting it off for a year or two is a year or two too long.”
There's also a proposal from administration for a new full-time policy planner position, which if approved, would add $132,000 to the operating budget.
McCallum said the 2011 budget “gutted” the planning department, which has never recovered. It has led to internal planning projects taking a backseat to those that are submitted since the Town is legally obligated to complete them in a timeframe.
“It’s really important this position have the opportunity to lead our community through the downtown enhancement plan, through our Palliser area structure plan … so we can address these social sustainability goals that aren’t being addressed. I fear we are on the precipice of not being able to address some of our concerns if we do not act now."
The Main Street pedestrianization for 2022 would see $50,000 from the economic development reserve be used if council provides the OK.
If approved, the zone would return for the coming summer, with $25,000 of the funds covering signage, traffic management, gateways and communications. The remainder would be enhancements to lighting, flower and artwork pageantry.
Though the motions being recommended for council approval combine to total $630,000, the majority of the funding comes from a mixture of paid parking revenue and various reserves.
The committee also recommended a reduction in life insurance and accidental death and dismemberment benefits for staff and the 2022 contribution to the art trust, which would save $129,000 if approved by council and aid in funding the policy planner position to help with the Palliser and downtown planning.
Staff also returned with options for council to fine tune the 2022 budget.
The options allowed the finance committee to see what fat could be trimmed from the budget or added.
The Nov. 10 finance committee directed staff to return with all increases that are funded by the mill rate and are more than $10,000. The idea was to give council a running list of budget aspects to take a deeper look at.
The exception being cost-of-living increases, a jump in cost due to inflation, legal mandated increases or contracts, increases in fire-rescue costs and growth-related expenditures.
According to the staff report, there are $4.486 million in total increases that are more than $10,000. Of those, $1.5 million aren’t supported by the mill rate and a further $1 million are from increases due to council policy or growth.
There were $900,000 in increases due to inflation or contracts and $285,000 for cost-of-living increases. The fire-rescue increases amount to about $43,000.
A total of $612,000 met the council criteria for review. Among those were $113,000 for a new development engineer, $92,000 for new staff positions in each of the IT and human resources departments and additional funding for legal fees and returning some departments to pre-COVID-19 levels of funding.
“I wanted to see which of the increases we had some discretion over and which direction was already tied in for one reason or another,” said Mayor Krausert, who made the motion for staff to return with increases that are more than $10,000.
Chelsey Richardson, the manager of finance for the Town of Canmore, noted the 16 line items were a small amount of the budget and account for 13.6 per cent of the increase.
“This highlights there isn’t a lot of new services or changes in terms of increases that drive that five per cent.”
The report highlighted possible additions of up to $945,000 by way of reintroducing the 50 per cent reduction in performance pay for $75,000, a new policy planner for $132,000 and increased Roam transit service during weekdays to 35 minutes for $138,000.
Alternatively, staff offered $313,000 suggestions in potential cuts such as halting the contribution to the art trust for 2022, which would save $103,000, reducing seasonal parks staff for $50,000 and holding the library’s 2022 requisition at $42,500.
The largest factor in the $1.5 million not supported by the mill rate were increases for bylaw services and arts and events. The report noted bylaw jumped by about $800,000 due to the paid parking program and additional enforcement. The jump for arts and events is due to two staff members returning to the department after being redeployed due to COVID-19, but are offset with them essentially being traded between departments.
For the $1 million that comes with policy and growth, $424,000 is transferred to reserves, including asset rehabilitation, general capital, the art trust and the flood mitigation reserve. There is $200,000 for increases in salaries and benefits, performance pay of $75,000 and an additional $158,000 to maintain new assets such as eight kilometres of paths, sidewalks and transit stops.
Staff have told council any changes to the budget – either additions or cuts – that $260,000 represents a one per cent change.
The operating budget that was proposed to the finance committee earlier in November is $61.2 million, an increase of $3.4 million from the 2021 budget.
The proposed capital budget for Canmore is $27 million in 2022, with the fire station on Palliser Trail taking up $14.65 million. On Nov. 30, staff updated the committee that an $800,000 renovation of the Canmore RCMP detachment that had been budgeted for would be removed since the Town did not have to pay for the project.
In a tax analysis presented to council, the Town came in slightly above its competitors in the 2020 residential average of $1,809 – with several of those coming from British Columbia – but slightly below its neighbouring average of $1,998, which is entirely in Alberta.
“Property taxes are incredibly complex,” said Richardson.
“There are many factors that will still impact property taxes owing, such as changes in assessment from year-to-year, the actual amount of growth we experience and how that aligns with the $400,000 we budgeted, whether it’s more or less and where that growth occurs in terms of the assessment classes.”
A simplified assessment would see a residential home assessed at $718,000 go from $1,673 to $1,757 for an $84 change. A non-residential assessment per $100,000 would go from $760 to $798 for a $38 difference and a $506,000 tourist home would go from $3,373 to $3,542 for a $169 change.
The recommendations by the Town’s finance committee will have council ultimately decide at its Dec. 14 budget meeting.