Town sending letter for precursory investigation
Council hears town's and new petition's concerns
A special town council meeting was called on April 30 to address the new petition of inquiry circulating in the community, a meeting that became very heated as council opened the floor for public comments and questions.
Council wanted to address residents’ concerns and learn what they wanted to know or needed clarification on in regards to the Shantz Crossing Business Park project, the 2012 budget, and other information that some wanted addressed.
The decision to move forward with Shantz was made after a five-to-two vote at the April 24 regular council meeting, much to the dissatisfaction of many residents including Rick Lavigne, who had spearheaded the new petition to request municipal affairs do an investigation of the town and administration.
Council seemed fine with this new petition, however, even going as far as to motion to send a letter to municipal affairs to have a precursory investigation done.
“We don’t have a problem bringing in an auditor to look over things as well,” said Mayor Brian Wittal at the meeting.
Tempers began to flare between residents and council as the floor continued to voice concerns about the lack of roadwork being done, the risk of Shantz and concern over its debt, and other off-topic issues in the community. One resident flat-out told council that they were “P.O’d” about the fact that their taxes had gone up every single year since they had moved to Didsbury.
“There are five people on council who the town are not happy with,” said resident Ric Wohlgmuth. “I don’t think you voted with conscience.”
“We thank everybody for their openness and willingness to share their views,” said Coun. Lavar Adams. “We debate all motions with the best information we have available to us. How do we know what the voice of the town is if we don’t hear from individuals like you? We all have a passion to watch the town grow and be all it can be.”
Discussion between residents and councillors settled to talk about ways council could simplify information about Shantz, the town debt levels and servicing and budget figures to help keep correct information openly circulating to any and all residents who wanted to learn it.
While all this information is available on the town website, some individuals voiced that there was still confusion when reviewing the complicated accounting figures.
“As we go down the road, we will give updates, but for now it’s public information that can be shared with anybody, and if there is a group who would like a formal presentation, we can do that,” said Wittal after the meeting.
“We assume the information is out… Until just a few weeks ago there was no concern around the debt levels and debt servicing, and people question it, and some don’t understand.”
“Accounting is complicated,” added Wittal. “We could put it to basic math, chequebook-style, but that would take a lot of time, and before, if people weren’t asking [for that], why do it? We need clarification on what we need to clarify, and we got that last night.”
Council will be meeting for a retreat this fall to discuss plans moving forward into 2013, outlining priorities and budget strategies for the new year.
“This fall, prior to the retreat, we want to try to get residents to give feedback at that time so we can try to build the budget around that, and see how it works,” said Wittal.
“We try to get more people engaged, and would love to see more engagement like this. The more voices that we hear, the easier it is for us to make decisions. The more people we hear from, it helps council know we are making a decision based on what residents are saying.”
However, in the case of Shantz, which has been years in the making and moving forward, resident feedback may have come a bit too late.
While a petition on appealing the directional signage the town had wanted to start was accepted by the town and, after being scrutinized for legitimacy of signatures but still taken into consideration by council to postpone the project, holding off on Shantz is not a move Wittal sees as beneficial, and he has said so at past meetings.
“Once the wheels get rolling on some things, you can’t stop, and that makes people frustrated, but I appreciate and understand that,” said Wittal.