Facts About “A Tale of Two Cities” A Comparison Between Lacombes & Chestermeres Approach to Hiring a New CAO

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Recently it was brought to our attention that a small site took issue with the facts supplied in our article “A Tale Of Two Cities: How Chestermere is Spending $100K More Than Lacombe To Find a New CAO“.   Given the outrageous claims in the article, we felt compelled to provide the facts.

Please note that www.PartisianIssues.com is trying to stay out of Municipal politics.  In Chestermere’s case specifically, we know that the new Council will make mistakes but that those mistakes will be well intentioned and not malicious.

Claim: Chestermere Is In Too Much of a Hurry To Handle Its Own CAO Search:

This is perhaps the strangest claim made in the article so we will deal with it first.  Our original article made three fundamental points;

  1. Lacombe will do their CAO search much faster than Chestermere
  2. Lacombe will do their CAO search for somewhere between $100K and $200K less than Chestermere
  3. Temporary staff, almost by their very definition, will not develop meaningful changes

The simple fact is that even though Lacombe started their CAO search after Chesteremere did, Lacombe has already hired a new CAO. Chestermere is still spending $27,000 on a person (who we are sure is a smart, qualified but temporary CAO) that has not made any notable changes to the city that any other CAO wouldn’t have done.

Beyond this we found it odd to imply that Lacombe isn’t in a hurry to get their CAO work done.  Clearly this is inaccurate; Lacombe is done and Chestermere isn’t.

Claim: Chestermere Has The Highest Residential Taxes:

Alberta-residential-tax-rates

We have the highest residential taxes in the region!

This is not even close to true. Click HERE to download the complete residential tax rate list for the Province of Alberta and you will see that Chestermere is in the lowest half of the Province.  When you look even closer at comparably sized and located Towns and Cities, you see that Chestermere is very well positioned.  Beyond the numbers shown in the table which end in 2015, the 2016 residential tax rate went DOWN 5% in 2016 (see 1:00 min in the video below)

On it’s face the claim is absurd.  Chestermere has not had sustained growth far beyond the Alberta and National levels through two massive economic crashes in the last decade because it’s taxes and services are out of control.

Most of what we all see as Chestermere Municipal Tax increases are actually large Provincial and Education tax increases that the City of Chestermere is REQUIRED to collect and remit.

 Claim: There Would Be Criticism For NOT Spending $25000 on a Recruitment Firm:

We are pretty sure that if such a firm were not used, there would be severe criticism for not doing so.

Oddly, they start this claim by agreeing that hiring a firm is unlikely to yield better results than performing our own seach:

Although in our experiences, the best hires usually come through one’s own networks

If Chestermere Council did think that spending $25,000 to do something that Lacombe did for virtually nothing, they need to grow a spine.   Council is hired to make decisions not hide behind high priced consultants.

For the record, we truly do not know why Council brought in an expensive consultant, but we are sure it was not so they could hide behind him.  We have more faith in our new council than that.

Claim: Chestermere’s Lack of Businesses Leads To High Residential Tax Rates:

We have the lowest non-residential tax base of almost any community, let alone a City, in Alberta. This is what drives up our residential taxes.

This is simply wrong but even if it was correct, the lack of Commercial business is understandable:

  1. Chestermere has great residential tax rates
  2. Chestermere is extremely close to Canada’s 4th largest city and so commercial is difficult to attract.  Do you shop at EastHills instead of supporting the businesses in Chestermere Town Center?  Now think to yourself, if you were to open (say) a car dealership would you open it in Chestermere or in Calgary’s North East where most of Chestermere already shops?  Governments cannot do very much about geography, regardless of what politicians say.

It’s also important to think back to the mid-2000’s and realize how few businesses made Chestermere a home at that time.  The last decade has seen huge expansion of commercial spaces, providing taxes, services and jobs to citizens.

Claim: Lacombe & Chestermere are Fundamentally Different So Comparisons Are Unfair:

In the 2016 population, Lacombe was 13,000 versus 20,000 in Chestermere.  Lacombe’s 2016 revenues from all sources excluding Government grants, was $25.8 million. Chestermere’s 2016 revenues excluding Government grants was $41.3 million.

If you do the simple math included in the statement, you will see that the cities are quite comparable: both cities have a tax base of about $2000/person.

No-one is claiming that two cities are exactly the same but:

  • anyone that has visited both cities can plainly see the comparison is fair
  • the comparison has to do with business processes in small cities and so the comparison would be ‘fair’ even if the numbers had far greater discrepancies

Claim: We Have the Highest Debt in the Region:

We have the highest debt per household in the region!

Beside the fact that this is inaccurate, unless you define the “Region” as Calgary and Strathmore, it ignores that fact that most of the debt was brought on largely to purchase a solid asset that is already paying dividends to Chestermere.  100 Acres of raw land was purchased below market value, at the worst of the oil crash.  About half the land is already now sold.  This will provide much needed commercial and light industrial jobs and taxes in the near future.

On the one hand the article claims that there is not enough commercial business (which necessarily means Chestermere does not have enough commercial land), but then criticizes previous Council’s and City staff for advancing 100 acres.

Let’s just think this through.  Why do you suppose previous Council and staff bought this land?  Was it to bring on debt and sink the City?  We think not.  Chestermere bought the land because the current set of land developers were not providing more commercial/light industrial space.  Chestermere needs more commercial land.  Look around and ask yourself, “In 2016, where was next commercial or light industrial area being developed?”  The answer is no-where.  Developers had decided that commercial land was better developed in Calgary because it has a much larger population to support.

There is also an insinuation that this purchase was somehow abnormal.  While it was unusual for Chestermere, this is how places like Red Deer get their land developed.  Council/The City buys the land and decides how to develop it.  Even in large cities like Calgary, this is common; think about who owns the East Village in downtown.

Claim: Current City Staff Are What Got Us Into a Mess In The First Place

Current staff have been following the old direction of past Councils for years…  Reading between the lines, staff did not want (new) Council opening the budget, or taking full ownership of CUI.

Chestermere is not in a mess.  It has issues today and it will have issues in the year 2050 but they are relatively minor.  Also, it is clear that Chestermere is in a much better position today than it was a decade ago.

If you have worked closely with city staff you would know they are hard working, serious, educated people that have your best interest at heart.

In any organization there are some staff that should be changed, and City of Chestermere workers provide no exception to this rule.  However, after working with many other jurisdictions on both residential and commercial interests in Ontario, Quebec, but mostly in Southern Alberta, we KNOW you have a good bunch of overworked and most certainly underappreciated staff in Chestermere.

If you are questioning the word “overworked”, Chestermere runs far below average at just 5.9 staffers per 1000 people (see the Chestermere By The Numbers video for comparisons).  If Chestermere council wanted to improve things, one easy step would have been to take the $100K+ that is being frittered away on flawed CAO process and hire more permanent staff.

The best (fastest, most effective and least expensive) interim CAO solution, is to elevate an existing senior manager or Director.

Claim: Previous Council Did Not Seek Reelection Because They Were Scared:

There is a reason why none of our past Council ran for re-election

Once again this is seriously uninformed.  Let’s go through the 7 people on previous Council one by one and identify why they did not run for re-election:

  • One said he would only run for one term when he was first elected
  • One had been on Council for 25 years and only came back after a previously elected councilor quit because he realized how much work council was.  Just ask the good people on current Council how overwhelming the job is and if they can see themselves on Council in even 10 years.
  • One got a job requiring constant visits to Lethbridge which frequently conflicted with Council duties and was doing all of us a serious favour by not quitting prior to the end of his term
  • One had family health issues
  • One wanted to spend MUCH more time out of the country
  • One started a new business that is doubling in size right now, so, again, there was no time for Council
  • The Mayor was the longest sitting Mayor in Chestermere history, had successfully completed all major projects (see below) she originally ran on, lead us through TWO of the worst economic downturns in nearly 100 years, and had many outside interests pulling her in new directions.

For this odd variety of reasons, none of the previous Council wanted to run for re-election.  It is quite a slanderous insinuation to suggest otherwise.

Beyond all of this, it was time for someone else, like our wonderful new Mayor Chalmers to take the helm and we genuinely wish new Council nothing but success… in fact we are counting on it.

Our Claim: The Current CAO Process Is a Serious Waste of Time & Money But it is Not Fatal

We can go on and on correcting the factual errors and odd innuendo like “Wasting Tax Payer Money Is Fine If It Is Small Per Person Cost”, but we hope we have made our points clear:

  1. Comparable Towns/Cities completed their CAO search for somewhere between $100K and $200K less than Chestermere
  2. Comparable Towns/Cities completed their CAO search much faster than Chestermere
  3. Temp staff, almost by their very definition, will not pursue large changes because they are temporary
    and
  4. Chestermere is not only in good shape, it is great shape.  That being said, this is much more to do and we are confident new Mayor and Council will meet the high standard that has been set.

Again, to make it excessively clear: The purpose of this article (and of this site in general) is to provide a reliable resource for facts while keeping the opinion to little more than explanation.  Unlike most sites these days we “want to produce more light, than heat”.

by John Roberts & Ian Matthews

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