The Chestermere residents who signed a municipal inspection petition are still waiting on a decision from the Province.
Chestermere resident Laurie 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. The petition asked for a provincial investigation into Chestermere City council’s actions and expenses, in particular increasing utility rates and property taxes.
If MA can verify all the names on the petition it may begin an investigation into Chestermere’s council and its policies. Only then will the provincial government determine the next step.
MA press secretary Shannon Greer said in an email to the Rocky View Weekly MA Minister Danielle Larivee had appointed a staff member to verify the petition. The appointed staff member has already reported the findings to the Minister.
“When Minister Larivee has finished reviewing the findings she will decide what actions, if any, will be taken and the petition representative as well as the City of Chestermere council will be advised of her decision,” Greer said.
Although there is no legislated timeline for the Minister’s response, Greer said she is expecting a decision soon.
“How hard is it to say, ‘we have a valid petition’ or ‘no, we don’t have a valid petition?’” Bold said.
“It would be nice to know that because then it’s like, ‘OK, I’ll be patient. We know something’s going to happen here.’”
Chestermere-Rocky View Wildrose MLA Leela Aheer sent a letter to MA May 10, requesting an update on the status of the petition.
“It’s valuable to send a letter to find out where things are at,” Aheer said, after posting the letter to Facebook.
“It’s important for residents to understand that their legislators are working on their behalf.”
But Aheer has yet to hear back from MA, and she said there may be a few reasons for that – including the recent wildfires in Fort McMurray and the time-intensive nature of verifying more than 5,400 names.
“Sometimes, these petitions take a very long time to come to fruition,” she said. “Vetting that many names takes some time.”
But some residents may be running out of patience. Despite a slight decrease to mill rates, Bold said high property taxes, combined with provincial tax increases, might start running some people out of the city.
“People are wanting to get out now because they know they can’t afford it and it’s never going to stop,” she said.
Bold expressed her frustrations with reports about the state of the City’s finances from the city’s utilities provider, Chestermere Utilities Inc. (CUI).
After projecting a $3.2 million net income shortfall in January, some residents thought the following hike to utility rates was made to cover the losses. Only a few months later, Bold said CUI reported a $1.5 million profit, from assets they “didn’t know they had.”
“I was so mad I could barely control myself at the meeting,” she said. “I (asked), ‘Well, why did you do the increases?’”
CUI CEO Leigh-Anne Palter said the increases to utility rates were not connected to projected net losses.
“The rate increase being requested was not in any way to do with past losses at the organization,” she said. “They were only (there) to try and put us in the situation where we could break even for 2016.”
Palter said there are two major services provided by CUI. Aside from providing utilities to Chestermere residents, the CUI supports new development and growth in the city.
Homebuilders and developers are responsible for putting utility assets into the ground and, once the system is approved, the assets are transferred to the CUI early in the first quarter of the following year.
Palter said this is the reason for the $1.5 million net profit reported.
“They’re assets that are given to us and we can’t use them to pay our bills,” she said. “They have nothing to do with the services that customers used that year.”
Aheer said it was important for citizens to engage with their local government.
“(The petition) has given them the opportunity to ask and inquire,” she said. “You want to be able to hold your elected officials accountable.”
Chestermere Mayor Patricia Matthews did not return requests for comment by press time.
- With files from Joel Dryden