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‘Concerned’ Coaldale citizens group petitions province for municipal investigation

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A concerned citizens group in Coaldale has gathered enough signatures to request a municipal inspection be done by the province. The group has a few concerns, namely what it describes as an overall lack of transparency and public accountability from the current town administration and council, which they refute. Taz Dhaliwal reports. – Dec 15, 2020

A petition to order a municipal review into the Town of Coaldale was expected to be delivered to Alberta’s minister of Municipal Affairs on Tuesday.

It includes 2,334 signatures, which is more than how many people voted in the town’s last municipal election.

Citizens For A Better Coaldale initiated a municipal inspection of the Town of Coaldale concerning several projects that are ongoing or are on the books with the Town of Coaldale as we speak. Namely speaking, the rec centre, the high school and the newest project referred to as the civic square,” said Jack van Rijn, spokesperson for the citizens group, on Tuesday.

Read more: Municipal inspection to be done in the Village of Warner

According the the group’s website, a municipal inspection is done by an independent examiner, which is assigned by the minister of Municipal Affairs “to investigate the concerns of residents, and provides an evaluation along with any recommendations for improvements if needed.”

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A municipal inspection can be triggered either by town council voluntarily, or by a petition to Alberta Municipal Affairs, which needs to be signed by at least 20 per cent of the town’s population.

Van Rijn adds that the group does not have any problem with the actual projects, and even supports them, but take issue with the way the town has gone about addressing public engagement and making major decisions when it came to choosing the locations for the new recreation centre and high school.

“When I was going around collecting signatures, I would say nine out of 10 people were against the present location for the new high school.

“That should send a clear message to the Town of Coaldale administration and council that the site should be revisited,” Van Rijn said.

A statement sent out by the group says the choice of a northside location for the proposed high school/rec centre is another example.

“Residents clearly wanted this project to be located on the southside of Highway 3, closer to where most residents live and in a safer, more accessible site, especially for children.”

However, town officials say community meetings and surveys were conducted in both cases.

On Tuesday, a release from Russ Tanner, director of recreation and community services for The town of Coaldale, was also sent out, descriptively outlining revenue, design, and the programming for the multi-purpose recreational facility.

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“The new facility will support several local sporting organizations and allow Coaldale to host and attract events which will ultimately benefit local businesses,” said Tanner.

“Due in large part to the private partnerships being developed within and for the multi-use recreation facility – be that operational cost splitting or revenue from lease agreements – we are projecting an operational surplus which will give financial flexibility in the future to explore additional recreational amenities such as a pool or new sheet of ice.”

The statement goes on to say while the projected capital construction cost for the facility is higher than previously anticipated, “the new design will allow the facility to have a higher ongoing revenue stream, paving a faster road to full cost recovery.”

“Most importantly, the additional upfront construction expenses are not projected to have an impact on future taxes; costs will be offset through reallocating budget surpluses from other capital projects, grant funding, and revenue generated through private partnership agreements,” the statement adds.

Read more: Village of Warner has been improperly managed: inspection report

Additionally, the spokesperson for the citizens group says another major concern residents have is future property taxes, especially from seniors on fixed incomes.

He says some have told them several times they chose to live in the town because of its small size, however they feel they already pay too much in taxes for what the town delivers.

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In a statement to Global News, Coaldale Mayor Kim Craig says in part:

“Citizens are welcome to make that request of the province.

“We as a council considered the matter, and decided that given the lack of evidence provided to justify such a significant expense, that pursuing an inspection simply wasn’t a responsible use of taxpayer dollars.”

The statement goes on to say Coaldale council has received a final report of a workplace culture audit and plans to release the results shortly.

Van Rijn says the group is looking for better communication from the town, something he says is already starting to happen with the town releasing more details on upcoming projects than in the past.

The town claims it is trying to clear up disinformation by doing so.

According to Municipal Affairs, an inspection can cost anywhere between $50,000 and $74,000, depending on the scope of the investigation.

Van Rijn says he believes the first step once the petition arrives in the minister’s office will be for the province to verify the authenticity of the signatures, review the concerns presented about the Town of Coaldale and then decide whether to proceed with a municipal inspection.

Since only 1,834 signatures are needed, the group is confident it has enough signatures for the petition to be validated.

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Van Rijn says extra signatures were necessary since it is a common occurrence from petitions submitted by other communities, for many signatures to be disallowed for various technicalities such as an incorrect address, spelling errors, or people signing not aware they are eligible to vote in Coaldale.

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