More than 5,000 Chestermere residents are calling on the Province to investigate their mayor and council – and they want answers, said resident Laurie Bold.
“Something’s not right,” she said. “There are a lot of people who want to stay here in the long haul. There are some decisions that have been made, and maybe those people have been there too long and we need to get some different people in there.”
Bold delivered a petition to Municipal Affairs (MA) March 24 with signatures from 5,413 residents – approximately 30 per cent of the city’s population. According to Bold, recent decisions by council, including a recently withdrawn annexation request, soaring utility rates and high property taxes have led to a loss of confidence amongst residents.
“We were frustrated with the increases with Chestermere Utilities Inc. (CUI). That was what started the whole thing,” Bold said. “They’re losing this money, and they have to keep putting these increases on it. At council meetings, we don’t get answers. We finally just got mad.”
Recent rate increases were proposed by CUI, citing significant shortfalls due to past accounting practices as well as ongoing increases in costs. Increases approved by council – 25 per cent for stormwater and solid waste collection, and 15 per cent for wastewater charges, according to CUI CEO Leigh-Anne Palter – did not cover projected deficiencies.
“City council in Chestermere plays two different roles. They are owner of the company and regulator, so in their role as shareholder they have to decide whether they want to own a company that runs a deficit,” Palter said. “If they’re willing to accept that, that will guide whether we’ll have to request an increase in rates again.
“It’s the case that even if we were to achieve a break-even mandate, we would need to (increase rates).”
Shannon Greer, MA spokesperson, confirmed her office had received a petition from residents and was currently going through the process of verifying its authenticity.
If deemed sufficient, MA may begin an investigation, which could involve a review of council and policy as well as interviews with staff and residents. According to the Municipal Government Act, MA could then direct action if the report determines Chestermere is managed in an “irregular, improper, or improvident manner.”
Chestermere Mayor Patricia Matthews said she had yet to see a copy of the petition. She said council had requested meetings with petition organizers, something Bold denied.
“Council takes every resident’s concerns seriously and appreciates the feedback residents give us,” Matthews said. “Whether it’s 5,400 or one resident, all concerns are taken into consideration by council. We invite anyone who has concerns to contact us.”
Resident Judy Dougan said she signed the petition due to her concerns with high tax rates.
“One of the reasons we moved to Chestermere was because taxes were cheap. The land taxes were just over $1,200,” she said. “We sold that house last year that we moved into, and we were paying over $4,600 10 years later.
“I realize living in a small town, taxes are going to be higher, but how they’re increasing I’m finding it ridiculous. I don’t know what they’ve been spending money on.”
Despite the concerns, Matthews said council has acted on rate increases based on recommendations from independent regulators as well as CUI.
“We are an open, transparent organization. All of this tax information, all of the decisions that we make are open to the public,” she said. “Staff and council is always available to answer resident questions. We pride ourselves on being transparent, and we’re available to anyone.”