Campaigning on a platform of lower taxes and vowing to get tough on crime, Jeff Hodgson has formally thrown his hat into the ring ahead of October’s municipal elections.
“I thought there was an opportunity and there seems like a desire for change,” Hodgson said in an interview.
In February the province decided not to proceed with an investigation into city council after 5,500 people signed a petition calling for its removal. Petition organizers complained of a lack of transparency, over inflated taxes and soaring utility rates.
In addition, the city has been engaged in a long running legal dispute with with Rockyview County that Hodgson insists shouldn’t have been started in the first place.
“Things like that are a distraction from what’s important,” he says. “People are more worried about taxes and crime.”
Hodgson has vowed to address all those issues if elected.
Hodgson is the second to formally announce his candidacy, joining former Camrose mayor Marshall Chalmers who announced his entry earlier this spring.
Both are looking to replace Patricia Matthews, who announced in April that she would not be seeking reelection this fall.
The former Calgary resident has lived in Chestermere for four years, but his wife was raised in the local area and he considers himself a long-time resident who is familiar with the issues important to voters.
His top priority is to limit tax increases to the rate of inflation — or less than 2% per year. Although he insists he’s pro-development, he wants to limit the rate of “reckless growth” and diversify the tax base.
He wants the city to “hit the brakes” on the pending Bridgeport redevelopment plan — which council has said it intends to pass before the election — and reconsider outstanding development proposals. Mayor Matthews has told the Anchor that Bridgeport will clear the decks to increase Chestermere’s population past 65,000 although Hodgson says the number is more like 80,000.
Hodgson notes there are several existing residential areas with unsold lots that provide a burden to taxpayers who have to foot the upfront costs before they can recover taxes. He’s concerned it all goes onto the mill rate.
“The short term impact is horrible upfront costs. People are worried this will continue and that it’s unsustainable,” he says. “I think there are smarter ways to go about it.”
In addition, he wants to hire more RCMP officers to stem what he calls a “bad trajectory” of higher crime. In particular, he says violent crimes are up 38% and property crime rates continue to be stubbornly high.
Although he agrees it’s important to diversify the tax base, he doesn’t think attracting more commercial development in the short run is going to address Chestermere’s overwhelming reliance on residential assessments. Pointing to the massive Easthills commercial complex on Chestermere’s western boundary,” that ship has sailed,” he says. “Once upon a time we could have developed that in Chestermere.”
Instead he insists the city has to be more innovative and proactive about finding ways to promote economic development.
Although he’s the third candidate to declare is mayoralty intentions, Hodgson says important for more candidates to step forward. Noting that voter turnout was barely 26% in the last election, he says it’s important for residents to have a complete airing and discussion of the issues as Chestermere transitions from a sleepy hamlet to a mid-sized city in its own right.
“We have to work to make it (Chestermere) the city that we want it to be,” he said.