Sunday, April 23, 2017

Frustrations With the Eastlink Centre



Over the last week I've received a great deal of feedback on the scheduling changes for the aquatic area of the Eastlink Centre. As a user of this facility with my wife and son, we have also been negatively impacted by these changes.  The community is frustrated and rightfully so.

So why the reason for these changes?

By now, most people have heard that there has been a shortage of lifeguards at the Centre. Between sickness and resignations, it has been difficult to have the proper compliment of staff required at all times under the previous model.

This model of "spontaneous use" meant that most areas of the Centre were open and available for public use on a drop in basis for most of the day. This created quite a bit of flexibility for users.  However, this model can be challenging for staffing requirements, particularly when there is a staffing shortage.

Pools have strict requirements for the number of lifeguards required to be on duty based on type of amenities, pool depth, sightlines, number of users in pool, etc. With a spontaneous use policy that has all the aquatics areas open, a minimum number of lifeguards is required, no matter the number of users in the facility. As more users enter the pool, more lifeguards are needed.

This creates a challenge when you are in a position of having limited staff. Areas have to be shut down to reflect available staffing levels. This was really frustrating for people accessing the pool, because you would show up and some areas would be open, some wouldn't. Sometimes you would be turned away because the pool was at capacity based on the number of lifeguards available.

The uncertainty this caused was a huge headache for users. This uncertainty was somewhat mitigated with the incessant stream of updates on social media. However, I think this frustrated users even more.

So why the change?

To address this uncertainty, it was decided to move away from a spontaneous use policy to more of a programmed schedule like the Leisure Centre used to have. This would allow Eastlink Centre staff to direct the limited staff resources more efficiently. This would also give users more certainty that when you show up for public swim, you won't be turned away.

As more lifeguards are trained and hired and staffing levels normalize, this policy change will be reviewed. This is a temporary change to address an unfortunate situation.

But how did we get in this position in the first place?

Eastlink Centre in crisis again. Seen that headline a few times in the last few years.

I don't want to play the blame game about how and why we found ourselves in this situation. As a City Councillor, it is one of my responsibilities to hold our City Administration (through our City Manager) to account for how they respond to a crisis and to evaluate their response from a community perspective.

Our new City Manager and Senior Administration have made righting the Eastlink Centre ship a top priority and have directed much time and resources into creating this temporary fix.  More importantly, they are working on addressing the longer term structural issues that have given rise to a number of issues at Eastlink Centre.

To that end, there are significant steps being made in the training and recruitment of lifeguards. There is also going to be a larger role for shallow water attendants who can patrol certain areas of the facility. Going forward, a nation-wide search for a top calibre General Manager has commenced.

The Eastlink Centre is one of the  premier attractions and rec facilities in Northwestern Alberta. I often hear from out-of-towners how lucky we are to have such an incredible facility. This is why it has been a Council priority to make sure this multi-million dollar investment is delivering the service residents and user groups expect.

I greatly appreciate all the feedback I've gotten from residents on this topic and I encourage you to keep Council and Eastlink Centre staff informed on what your expectations of the facility are.







Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Red Light Cameras, Photo Radar, and the City



Talk about a love-hate relationship!

I find this topic evokes a lot of strong emotions. Some people love 'em and want to see the city crawling with patrols, some people hate 'em and want to see them banned altogether.

Nothing ruins your day more than coming home, opening your mail, and finding a big, hefty fine smacking you in the face (with a nice little photo that says "Ha! Argue with this!")

Been there, done that. More often than I care to admit. Cally and I often joke that we spent more money on photo radar tickets during our university years than we did on tuition (you're welcome City of Lethbridge).

Then Rory, why would you support these no-good, money-grabbin', worthless pieces of...you get the picture. We've all heard it.

Well here's why:

When the contract for red light cameras expired early in 2014, I was determined to never allow them in the city ever again. Same with photo radar. I thought they were all a money grab, ineffective at changing driver behaviour, punished too many "good" drivers, etc. I'm sure you could add a few reasons of your own.

Then I was confronted with a harsh reality from our Enforcement department: Collision stats. In 2014 we had 640 collisions that resulted in serious injuries plus 4 that involved fatalities. This was more than double the provincial average. It wasn't a one year blip either. Over the past four years, traffic collisions in the city had increased by 102% while they had decreased by 18% provincially over the same time.

It became obvious that something had to be done. But what?

Enforcement embarked on creating a strategic plan that including a wide range of measures including education, engineering changes, better coordination with the RCMP, and you guessed it...stricter enforcement including photo radar, red light, and speed-on-green cameras.

I didn't like it.

I needed to prove how ineffective these contraptions were. 

So I read. And read. And read some more. And wasn't too please with what I found.

On red light/speed on green cameras, study after study confirms the effectiveness of these devices as a means to change driver behaviour. These studies look at collision rates at intersections where there has been no enforcement and then at areas where there is enforcement. And the conclusions are similar no matter the city, province, or country.

All these studies find that with once a red light/speed-on-green camera is installed and people start getting ticketed, drivers become much more cautious when approaching intersections and will stop sooner. Because of this red light/speed-on-green cameras actually lead to a slight increase in rear end collisions. However, this is overshadowed by a massive decrease in serious injury collisions (anywhere from 30 - 45%) as there are much fewer people speeding through reds causing T-bone collisions. 

With mobile photo radar, the results are not as conclusive, but generally studies show that photo radar can be an effective tool IF used in combination with other tools used to affect driver behaviour. There needs to be holistic approach that includes education, engineering solutions, and enforcement. My read of the literature is that relying on photo radar alone will generally not lead to slowing driving speeds and preventing collisions, but if used in combination with other methods, it can help reinforce the message and over time change driver behaviour.

Studies can be found at bottom of post.

Confronted with this knowledge, I begrudgingly begin to change my mind on allowing these devices. The fact of the matter is that in urban areas, the chance of getting in a collision doubles every 5 km/h someone goes over the speed limit. Too many lives have needlessly been lost or severely impacted in our city and with this being the case, I came to believe that we should use all available tools to make our streets safer.

I eventually supported Enforcement's holistic, integrated plan to address the high collision rate. These included:

For education we do things like run ads reminding people of school zones, putting "how fast are you going" signs up, and supporting education programs like Safety City.

For engineering we are constantly looking at ways to improve road configurations, intersection visibility, and crossings. This past budget we specifically put money in for intersection improvements with safety being a motivating factor. We also regularly review speed limits and increase and decrease them where warranted based on a variety of factors. We recently did this a few months ago (see here, Report 1.7, Appendix A)

For enforcement, we have a mixture of RCMP and Peace Officer patrols and automated systems (red light, speed-on-green, and photo radar) that work in sync to target high collision/high risk areas.

But come on Rory, we all know this is just a money grab.

If online comment sections are to be believed, you would think that City Council sits hunched over, finger-tips twitching, brooding over how we can extort more money out of our unsuspecting residents. 

Not quite the case. It's about safety. That's why administration came up with a plan that identified the worst roads and intersections for collisions and we're focusing on those. You can see the list here. Only 4 intersections have the cameras installed. If this was really a tax grab, we could install cameras on every set of traffic lights and set up permanent photo radar machines on every street (as some cities do) and literally have tens of millions of dollars rolling in. Also, if it was about money, why would we let the program lapse for almost 2 years? Wouldn't be the smartest financial decision.

So is the program perfect?

No program ever is.

One of my pet peeves is when you find photo radar set up at "fishing holes". There are a number of streets that have had very few collisions but are easy pickings on the ticket front. When I see these, I send my concerns over to Bylaw. Sometimes I get a response giving some justification (usually residents in the area were concerned with high volume of speeders, sometimes it is a high collision area that you wouldn't suspect.) Sometimes there's no good rationale and management can talk to officers or contractors and steer them back to the areas they should be targeting.  I encourage you to give Bylaw and/or Council a shout with your concerns so that we're aware of what's happening.

One of the sad realities is that there are people who choose to consistently speed excessively and flaunt traffic laws egregiously. Photo radar/red light cameras are usually not effective in changing the behaviour of these individuals which is why we need to continue to have traditional officers who are able to catch and bring the full weight of the law to bear (fines, suspension, jail).

So there's where I stand...for now. So far the stats have shown that through a combination of tools, we've been able to curb the number of collisions.  Council will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the program and make changes where needed. I welcome any feedback you have on this topic.

Rory



Selection of Studies
Alberta Transportation
City of Winnipeg
City of Medicine Hat
Texas Transportation Institute

Blogs/Articles of Interest
City of Edmonton
Global on Red Light Cameras
Article on US Red Light Cameras























Saturday, November 21, 2015

More Police, Bear Creek Pool, and others - Budget 2016


 Council concluded budget talks for the 2016-18 budget. While the bulk of the budget was set at last year's four-year budget, every November Council reviews the budget and makes changes where desired.

As most of the budget was set last year, you can read my blog on last year's budget decisions here and see what went into my decision to vote against it.

This year was a tougher budget year as growth in tax assessment grew even less than our conservative estimates. A number of difficult decisions were made and in the end the tax increase was reduced to what was planned last year.

We were able to invest in a number of projects that will improve the quality of life of GP residents. Below is a number of the decisions that were made and how I voted:

The Leisure Centre Pool

Council voted to remove the remaining $5 million that was allocated to the Leisure Centre and invest it in other projects this budget year. In the Spring, Council will be presented with a Recreation Master plan that was developed with the County. This plan will advise regional municipalities on when we should begin planning for another indoor aquatics facility.

More Police Resources
$1.1 million - Supported
Given crime trends in the region, local police authorities requested additional resources to compliment the additional 12 officers that were budgeted for last year. In an 8-1 decision, Council voted to have an extra 5 officers budgeted for. These officers will be dedicated to a Drug Enforcement Unit. An additional 5 municipal staff will also be hired for administrative support, data entry, and analytics so that officers can spend more time in the field.


CKC Grandstands
$1.1 million - Not supported
Last year Council budgeted $2 million for the building of bleachers and grandstands (complete with washrooms, dressing rooms, etc.) with the expectation that the remaining amount would be funded with private donations. Fundraising has been a little slower given the economy and so Council was asked whether we wanted to fund the remaining amount. I did not feel that this project was a top priority and was willing to wait until additional sponsorship dollars came in. Defeated 2-7.

Bear Creek Pool
$5 million - Supported
There was unanimous support on Council for the reopening of this facility. There was much debate on which option to choose though. When all the dust settled, the $5 million mark was agreed upon which would give us enough funding for the basic version of Option D (see below) without the waterslide and splash park.

I proposed the motion for this amount because I felt Option D found a good balance between residents wanting to use the pool for fitness as well as having expanded features for younger children. Given the tough budget year, I felt we could reduce overall expenses by not including the waterslide and splash park. However, the water hook-ups for these features could still be added so that these pieces could be added in the future.

While there is a higher upfront capital cost, outdoor pools are quite inexpensive to run (only about 1% of the Eastlink Centre budget).



Please note that we have not approved the final design of the pool yet, so there may still be modifications made.


Downtown Incentives
$500,000/year - Supported
In last year's budget, Council supported the start of a major project to replace the underground infrastructure and streetscape of the downtown core. You can see details of the plan here. With the major investment in public infrastructure, we wanted to encourage private investment in our city's core. Recognizing that it is more difficult and expensive to develop there than other places in the city, we are putting in place a 3-year incentive program that will be used to encourage new development and improve the look of existing buildings. Passed 8-1.

Montrose Concourse
$2 million - Not supported

While I am in complete support of this project, given the tight budget year this was not a priority for me. Passed 7-2.

Museum/Archives Space
$850,000 - Supported
The South Peace Regional Archives, housed in the GP Museum, stores much of the region's history. The Archives have reached maximum capacity in their existing space with archivists and documents filling every nook and cranny available to them. While Council was not in a position to fund a new building, we did recognize the need to build additional space which will extend the usefulness of their current location for the foreseeable future.

The Museum has been renting temporary storage space for some years that has been inadequate for storing old artefacts. I felt it was important to invest in a permanent storage space that will adequately preserve our region's history. These projects were passed 8-1.


QEII Foundation Sponsorship
$250,000/year - Not supported
The QEII Foundation had requested that Council support their capital campaign for equipment at the new hospital to the amount of $350,000/year for 10 years. In a 7-2 decision, Council voted to include $250,000/year for the next 2 years. I was not in favour of this funding. While I am in complete support of the Foundation and will personally be giving to their campaign, I strongly felt that this was not an area that municipal tax dollars should be involved in.

I am always very cautious about extending the City's tax dollars into areas that I feel to be outside of our mandate. I believe hospital funding is and should be the responsibility of the provincial government. Taking on a portion of this responsibility, however small it may be, sets a poor precedent in my opinion. There are many community needs in other provincial areas like education, highways, and colleges. I believe we have to be very careful to not overextend ourselves into these areas. Passed 7-2.

Young Offenders Centre - Safety Upgrades
Up to $500,000 - Supported

I was very disappointed with the outcome on this item. When Council accepted the YOC from the provincial government, we knew that there were a number of safety upgrades that were going to be required in order make the facility usable again. Earlier this Fall, an RFP went out to community groups, asking for proposals for the Centre. As part of the RFP, the City indicated that it would cover the costs of the safety upgrades while leasehold improvements would be the responsibility of the organization.

The organization that scored the highest once proposals came in was Rising Above. City administration and Rising Above then began working out a lease agreement. I felt that since we had committed to the community that we would be funding the safety upgrades, we needed to honour our commitment and ensure funding was available in the budget. Unfortunately, this item was defeated 4-5.

Going forward, Rising Above and the City will continue to work out a lease agreement and I anticipate that there will likely be a request for funding of the safety upgrades before the lease is signed.

Cultural Integration Academy
$48,000 - Not supported

This is a fantastic program, funded by the Province, which brought people new to Canada together to learn about Canadian laws and customs, law enforcement, political structures, and to learn about local resources available to them. With the Province no longer providing funding to the program, there was a request to have the City fund it for the next couple of years.

Council decided in a 7-2 decision to fund the program, but only until the end of the program's year.

I did not vote for this funding as I felt this was another area where the City needed to be careful in taking over provincially funded programs.


Concrete Crushing
$500,000/year - Supported reduced amount

This was an item already in the budget that the Mayor flagged as an area we could find some savings for this year. It was determined that some of this budget item could be delayed to future years without any major impact to operations. The Mayor made the motion to reduce this amount to $250,000/year for 2015 and 2016.  I supported this motion. Passed 6-3.

Seniors Property Tax Rebate
$50,000/year - Not supported

 The City has a program which provides a $100/year rebate to low-income seniors. I made a motion to remove funding for this program. There are two main reasons I made this motion:

1. One of the intents of the program is to provide some property tax relief to seniors so that they are able to stay in their homes longer. There's a couple points on this. First of all, I question how effective a $100 rebate on a $3,000 tax bill is in being the deciding factor in whether a senior stays in their home or not. Second, the Province created a program that allows low-income seniors to defer paying their entire property tax bill until they sell their house. I believe this program is much more effective in the aim of keeping low-income seniors in their homes longer.

2. I believe the program is inequitable. There are many property owners who would benefit from some tax relief, in addition to seniors. As such, I feel that any programs to make housing more affordable should be accessible to our entire population.

Given these concerns, I felt that money used for this program would be better used for general tax relief or to be transferred to a more effective program. Motion was defeated 2-7.


Other major projects that were previously budgeted for this year which are going ahead:

68th Ave Twinning - Funds are in place to complete the bridge over the winter with construction on the road twinning beginning in the Spring. Right now there is enough funding to twin from 108 St (Hwy 40) to 100 St. Ideally, we would like to finish twinning right to Poplar Drive. Once the tenders come in early next year, Council will decide whether to proceed with this section.

Upgrade to Pavilion in South Bear Creek Park - $800,000
Additional ball diamond - $400,000
Intersection, sidewalks, and pathway upgrades and renewal - $3.8 million
Road repair, rehab, overlay, and line painting - $8.9 million
Storm line upgrades - $1.5 million

Snow plow - $300,000

So that's Budget 2016! While I still have concerns with the level of operational funding (which I laid out in last year's budget), I was pleased with the number of capital items approved this year that have  very low operating costs. Council will vote on the budget on the 30th, but the budget can still be amended until the mill rate is set in the Spring.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

School Bus Stop Signs in City Limits



I have had several parents talk to me about the City's bylaw which does not allow school buses to use their stop signs and red flashing lights in City limits on roads under 80 km/h. With the recent accident of a child being hit by a vehicle while crossing the road, this issue has made headlines again.

Council decided to take a look at this issue again, review the bylaw, and make a decision about what is best for the safety of our children. I want to share some of my thoughts and research on the subject that will be guiding me as I examine the bylaw.

First, our children's safety should be the number one concern. I want to live in a community where decisions are being made to make our streets as safe as possible.

Second, when it comes to bussing our kids, we need to minimize the times where crossing the street is necessary. Our school boards always try to design routes so as to minimize the number of times street crossings are required. Where feasible, they try to accommodate special requests. In this most recent incident, the public school board was able to redesign the route so that the child no longer has to cross the road and is picked up on his side of the street.

Third, there are inevitably going to be times where road crossing has to occur. So the question to ask is: where is the safest place to do so?

It has long been the opinion of transportation departments, enforcement agencies, and road safety advocates that in urban settings, crosswalks and intersections should always be the preferred place to cross streets. They argue that these are designed to have greater visibility so that pedestrians and drivers can more easily see each other. They are usually better lit, have fewer obstacles to be hidden by, and are typically marked for drivers to see. Also, crosswalks are usually permanent and do not change from year to year.

As such, these officials argue that it is less safe to cross a roadway mid-street, even with a temporary stop sign out on a bus. They say that crossing mid-street doesn't always offer the same visibility as crosswalks. There can be large vehicles and/or trailers parked on the street that reduce visibility and block sightlines. Also, there are many residential streets that have sharp curves and vehicles cannot see a bus until they are several metres away. 

In essence, the temporary nature of school bus stops (which can change month to month) gives less predictability to drivers to know when and where to stop. Thus, we would be giving our kids a false sense of security by letting them think it is safe to cross a road just because a stop sign is up.

On the flipside, I have parents who say that while crosswalks and intersections may be the safest way to cross a street, in reality, children will take the shortest distance to the bus which typically involves crossing mid-street. Since this is the case, shouldn't we minimize the risk of kids being hit by having buses put out stop signs?

When it comes to public safety, City Council must make decisions that minimize risks to the greatest extent possible while being feasible. In this case, we need to decide which option minimizes the chance of being hit the most.

Like all policies, the answer may not be black and white. On the whole, studies have shown that in the few cities that have allowed bus stop signs, there has been a higher rate of accidents. However, there are many factors in GP that could affect outcomes differently such as road widths, engineering standards, type of vehicles on roads, amount of daylight, etc. It could be that the stop signs could be allowed under certain conditions. While the vast majority of cities feel it is safer to not allow the stop signs in city limits, there are a couple that do not, like Fort McMurray.

This is why I'm supportive of having the Community Safety committee look at this bylaw again to make sure we are promoting the safest policies for our children.

Some further reading:







Tuesday, November 3, 2015

La Grande Prairie et Le Réseau Francophone




Bonjour!

Earlier this year, the Mayor of Quebec City reached out to Grande Prairie City Council with an invitation to join the Francophone and Francophile Cities Network. Working with other founding members, Moncton, New Brunswick and Lafayette, Louisiana, Quebec wanted to connect cities across North America with strong ties to the French language and culture.

The purpose of the Network would be to "promote communities that are historically, culturally, and linguistically affiliated with French Canadian culture and showcase their tourist attractions."

Grande Prairie was invited to be part of the network based on its significant ties to French culture and heritage. It's even reflected in our name.  You can find out more about Grande Prairie's French heritage by visiting the Grande Prairie Museum or the South Peace Regional Archives or by reading any of our history books.

Today, there are around 5,000-6,000 people who speak French in the city. We have a Francophone school, a couple thousand students enrolled in French immersion, and have a very active French Association (ACFA Grande Prairie).  One of the city's largest festivals each year is the Cabane à Sucre (Maple Sugar Festival), a celebration of French Canadian culture and heritage which takes place in February each year. Given our strong ties to the French community, Council was interested in becoming a part of the Francophone Cities Network.

Over the last couple of days, I had the privilege of attending the inaugural conference of the Network in Quebec City.  While there, I signed up Grande Prairie as an official member on behalf of Council. There was no cost to becoming a member and there are some great benefits that come with joining:

Information sharing. Being linked to other cities with French heritage gives us access to a wealth of knowledge.  During the conference I was able to learn things such as what other cities are doing to celebrate their French history and culture and what primarily English cities are doing to welcome French migrants and immigrants.  

Economic spinoffs. One of the key objectives of the Network is tourism promotion. The Network is going to be setting up tourism "circuits" that will market groups of cities to tourists looking for French heritage destinations as well as places where tourist attractions are accessible in French. This will give Grande Prairie another avenue to market our region and attractions like the dinosaur museum.

Being a part of the Network will also help showcase the French services our community provides for those seeking employment here.

A website for the Network is being developed and will highlight our city to the world.  You can see what has been developed so far here:

I look forward to continuing to work with the Network as it develops. If you'd like to know, give me a shout!

À plus tard!


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Moveable Floor, the Leisure Centre pool, and a Splash Park: My Vote Explained

On Monday night, Council made a number of decisions in regards to aquatics facilities:

1. To not proceed with renovations to the Leisure Centre pool.
2. To install a moveable floor in the Eastlink Centre.

The previous week, the Community Living committee (which I am a member of) voted to have administration bring back some costing on options for a large splash park to replace the Bear Creek pool (options may include a wading pool, slides, an enhanced spray park, and a covered cookhouse.)

I supported these initiatives and here's why:

Leisure Centre pool

I have not supported this reno from the start. In a previous post I argued that the cost of renovating old pools is extremely expensive and often not cost-effective.  I also mentioned that once the building was inspected further we'd likely see the costs escalate even more.  This turned out to be the case.

Once walls were opened up, it was found that there was a greater scope of work needed.  Renovation cost estimates now exceed $14 million.  To put that in context, administration noted that the cost of building a new same-sized facility would be $13 million.

So why didn't you build a new facility?

My opposition to the project was also based on the business case for the project.  With the Eastlink Centre currently at 47% capacity, it was recommended that it would not be cost-effective to open another aquatics facility until it reached 80%.  As such, a new pool would require an operating subsidy of $1.1 million per year, which translates into a much smaller cost-recovery ratio than the Eastlink Centre.

We are now going to wait until the regional recreation master plan comes out in the Spring which will advise us on the greatest rec needs for the region over the next several years.

The Moveable Floor

*queue the laser lights and techno music*

Sounds space age, don't it?

Before investing in a new pool, I think we need to ensure that the Eastlink Centre is operating at maximum efficiency.

While the Eastlink centre is at 47% capacity overall, there are some areas where we are at much higher capacity and some where we are lower.  One area at greater capacity is our aquatics programming like fitness classes and swimming lessons.  One of the facility's constraints is that there is limited shallow water for these activities.

On the flipside, an underutilized area is the deep 50m pool.

Enter Moveable Floor. It is becoming common practice for pools to put in moveable floors to allow for flexibility in different types of use.  By adding a moveable floor to the 50m pool, we can offer toddler programs in a couple inches of water, elementary swimming lessons in 4 feet, water aerobics at 6 feet, and competition swimming at full depth.

By making the pool more accessible to more people more often, we can increase the level of service we offer.  This will help the facility run more efficiently and will alleviate some of the need for a new pool in the near future.

Splash Park

There has been tremendous community support to have an outdoor aquatics facility that families can escape to in hot weather. As I've mentioned before, I believe that an enhanced splash park, such as the one in Spirit River that everyone raves about, would fill a desired niche in the community.  It is also much more cost effective than having a full depth swimming pool.

I look forward to seeing what the costs are for various components of such a park. There will be report brought to committee in October.

Financial Impact

So how do these decisions shake out financially?

There was $6 million allocated towards the Leisure Centre pool reno over the last few years.  $5 million was slated to be borrowed.

Council made the decision to take $4 million out of the project.

$1 million will go towards the moveable floor.

We've slated up to $3 million for the splash park (for context...the one in Spirit River cost $2.5 million)

$2 million will remain allocated to the Leisure Centre until the recreational master plan is ready at which time we can decide on a course of action.

The $5 million will not be borrowed.

There will also be savings for the Leisure Centre operational costs that would have started in 2017 (approx. $1.1 million subsidy/year).

Overall, there are no additional funds being spent, just reallocated. There will be savings in the borrowing and operational costs.


I look forward to getting your input on what should be included the splash park once we have an idea of what the different components cost.









Thursday, August 13, 2015

Why the Census Matters

In case you've been living under a rock , the official results of City of Grande Prairie's municipal census were released today. The results showed that GP has grown an astounding 24% in the last 4 years which gives us a population count of 68,556!

GP remains one of the youngest cities in Canada with 26% of our residents under the age of 20 and 8% under the age of 5. We continue to have more children under the age of 5 than we have seniors 65 and over.

Wow, that's incredible...it's cool to know...but what's the point of a census?

When I brought the idea up of having another municipal census a year ago, there were several reasons for it.  They include:

1. Infrastructure and Program Planning

As the City develops plans for new roads, recreation facilities, playgrounds, etc., the census numbers give us a better idea of how quickly and where to build to better serve our residents.  For example, many of our road plans state that when the population hits "x" then it should be widened, when it hits "y" then it should be twinned, etc.

The neighbourhood breakdown gives our City staff, community groups, businesses and other government bodies a better idea of where to provide services.  For example, if someone is looking to set up an after school drop-in centre, Pinnacle may be an ideal spot because there is a high number of 5-14 year olds (605 to be exact).

These updated numbers also help our school boards to more effectively plan for additional class space and new schools.

2. Increased Grant Funding

Many of provincial and federal grants the City receives have a portion that is given out on a per-capita basis. A population increase of 13,524 translates into an additional $3.1 million entering our city each year (unless grants are cut of course). Pretty good return on the $171,000 census.

3. Attracting Retail Stores

When investing in a market, retail businesses need to know whether there is the population base there to sustain their operations. Some large chains even set hard population thresholds before entering a market (for example, Olive Garden and Red Lobster require 100,000).

Our economic development department has already begun to make sure the retail business community nationwide has the most up to date numbers.

4. Bragging Rights

Move on over St. Albert and Medicine Hat! Alberta has a new number 5! Council will be walking with a new swagger when we meet with our colleagues from across the province next month.

In all seriousness though, this massive increase does send quite the message to the provincial and federal governments about our intensely rapid growth.  When we advocate for projects like more schools and the finishing of the bypass, we now have a lot more clout behind us.

To put our growth in context, we are adding the population equivalent of a Beaverlodge and a Hythe to our numbers each year.

So there you have it...why censuses matter.  If you're planning on using the census data for anything, I'd love to hear what for.