An open letter to the city regarding the Council Meeting – February 18, 2016
Two key questions arose at the recent Chestermere City Council meeting of February 18 that resulted in a vote for an approximately 17% rate increase on utilities for area residents. The first question most residents had was what factors led council to this decision and why these issues were not clearly outlined at the meeting. The second question was why council chose to disallow public discussion on the matter.
On the obviously sensitive issue of the rate increase and council’s acceptance of it, the Mayor suggested residents should speak with a councillor individually, after the meeting. However, it was clear from my own experience that councillors had no intention of following through on this direction. At the end of the council meeting I requested a meeting with a Council Member. I asked the individual what factors and information were used in the decision to increase utility rates. I explained that if I could better understand the real facts used to support the increase, I would have a better understanding of the issues facing the council and could provide a better explanation to my family.
The councillor however, was not interested in aiding my understanding and actually indicated that they didn’t really understand the issues by explaining that they did not understand utilities and were not an accountant. The councillor further explained the decision was based on the information provided by the “experts”. However, it is my understanding that the “experts” council previously relied on also ran a deficit of $1.4 million dollars for the past three years and a fact of which council was unaware until recently.
My frustration with council’s obvious dismissal of public concern in regards to the rate increase was shared by other attendees. Many were very upset when they found out they could not ask questions publicly and as a result two attendees who made their feelings clear on the matter were escorted out by peace officers. Also, the fact that council felt the need for a police presence for this meeting illustrates council’s callous disregard for public input and debate.
Along with concerns regarding council’s conduct at the February meeting, there are also questions arising from the Consultant Report on the 2016 Rate Increase. This report suggests there are potential accounting concerns and possible accounting policy changes that need to be implemented. Area residents would like to know have these concerns been dealt with and are the accounting issues behind us?
Many of these concerns and questions could easily have been handled by setting aside time at the end of the meeting, or even moving the question period to a separate forum. Area residents should be allowed an opportunity to ask questions of City Council in a public forum about this very sensitive topic. Although allowing such a question period would have resulted lively and pointed discussion, people would have still left with the feeling they had a bit of input into the matter. Council must remember that they were voted in by the residents of Chestermere and they deserve respect. The majority of the residents in attendance felt disrespected and sidelined.
In my opinion, the information presented in the Herald article was generic and created to give the public a general idea of the issues. No numerical facts supporting council’s decision were published. In my analysis of the Review of Chestermere Utilities Inc. Request for 2016 Rate Increase consultant report I have identified a few key points that I feel are red flags:
As a resident of Chestermere I feel such major cost increases to property taxes and utility charges must be reviewed very carefully and with attention paid to the details. Decisions of this magnitude affect more than 5,500 resident home owners and about 220 business customers in the city of Chestermere. With such a large group affected it was an eye opening experience for me to see how out senior city leaders demonstrated their handling or this in case – mishandling, of such issues.