If you've come this far, you must be wondering what my vision is, and what I'm running my platform on. I want you to understand that I'm running my platform on a plan, not just an idea. We often hear the same narrative every election year, it's always the same thing, and that's an idea. Candidates come with an idea, but no real plan. We need real plans, with innovative and strategic ideas, that will make a real difference. I see a better way to do things. We need to replace old outdated thinking, with new thinking. I want to shift more of the power back to you. I also want to enhance our community health, community protection, increase our municipal revenue, personal finances, affordable housing, and slow our rapid growth.
Giving you your voice back
The Cochrane Voter Initiative
I think we can do this, I call it, The Cochrane Voter Initiative, and there is many reason's why we should do it. More often than not, large amounts of money get spent, and sometimes we don't get enough public input until it's too late. I would like to champion a new legislated municipal law that allows for the Voter Initiative to initiate once a proposed community spend would exceed more than $1,000,000. When the Voter Initiative is initiated, the power shifts back to you. That means the administration enacts a voter-based website, where community members enter their information, and select from the available options. It is true, that many people do not attend in person council meetings, or engage in community workshops . This option allows you to make your voice heard from the comfort of your home. If you've ever felt like you never had a say, here's your chance to do it.
I wanted to share that this initiative is important to me for so many reasons, and is more important now than ever. Usual community engagements, which often only sees on average of less than 300 opinions being shared, is simply not enough. Our spending needs to be better controlled, and the best example I can give is this. Our new and much needed Protective Services Building is a long over due project, however, it was slated to cost $10.8 Million dollars. I still think we could have built it for that amount of money. Today, its $23,000,000 and, that doesn't include the EST. $14.5 Million dollars in interest payments, at the higher end of the interest rate. That means, we are spending over half of what the building is worth, in just interest. How does a decision like this affect us? Well, its no secret that it will come from property taxes amongst other things ,making you spend more. Are you an investor in real estate? Do you have a rental property or two? This now affects your renter, unless of course you're willing to absorb the costs.
Its no secret that rent is high, fuel is at an all time high, and the cost of living is going up. Through living in, and researching about other communities, I can tell you we are almost on par with some of our neighbouring, and more expensive British Columbia communities. If we continue down this path, we'll end up pricing more of our own community members out of the local market, which means our properties will sit emptier for longer, which shifts the onus back on you to cover the mortgage and fees. Decisions like this, also affect our small businesses and their employees. It's costly decisions like this, we often don't think about until its too late.
I would also to share that we are borrowing a lot of money for projects that are being financed from existing debt. I would like to bring Cochrane to the point of responsible spending. After all, the more money we have in our pockets, the better off we are.
Having The Cochrane Voter Initiative, will also prevent our elected officials from doing what happened more recently, where 2nd and 3rd reading were passed within seconds. That means, if someone had just found out about a project or community initiative, and wanted to petition the Mayor and Council, the individual, or community as a whole, never would have had a chance. the act ensures everyone gets their say.
With that being said, this would be a good start to give your voice back in a more interactive way.
Enhancing our protections in crime and health
1. My plan would include starting a petition to present to the Health Minister, and Alberta Health Services to get Cochrane Urgent Care operating at twenty-four hours a day. We need it now! We heard in the last election that the candidates wanted twenty-four-hour Urgent Care. However, you need to ask yourself, who started a petition? Why did they not start a petition? Why in three and a half years did they not invite you to get on board to sign one. Driving to the city creates many hazards to our health, and takes our ambulances away for long periods of time, when they could stay right here, at home. We also have other communities who come here to use these services. These areas include Bottrel, Cremona, The Stoney Nakoda First Nation, Water Valley, Ghost Lake, and everywhere in between. Making Cochrane Urgent Care twenty-four hours should have been done years ago.
We have to build up our health care now. If we don't enhance our health care, even more stress is placed onto our health care workers with an unfair ratio of patients to medical staff. That's why if elected, I'll need your help to sign a petition, where I'll deliver the petition to both Alberta Health Services, and the Minister of Health. You can also trust me when I say that if you help me, I'll commit as much time as needed until we have our twenty-four hour Urgent Care facility.
The following quote was from the Alberta Health Minister, when the Airdrie community made their voices heard for their twenty-four hour urgent care facility request.
“We’ve listened to the community about their health-care needs and have come up with a solution that meets these needs,” Sarah Hoffman.
If the Airdrie community can do it, we can do it too!
2. ERPP (Emergency Response Pandemic Plan)- This is important for all of us, and we need to learn from the current COVID pandemic, and start building a comprehensive response plan in the event of another global pandemic. I would start taking the time to build a plan that will help protect our small businesses, first responders, and our community as a whole.
3. "The Fort" What is it? The Fort is an initiative that I would like to see take place. When the RCMP move into their new location, what do we do with their current building? My vision would entail something that we should all want. Safe and healthy kids, with less crime. It is estimated that 20-30 homeless youth are in Cochrane at any given time. With an inevitable population growth, we should address this issue now, verses waiting until its too late.
I would like to see a transformation of the current RCMP building, into a youth resource center, and temporary emergency shelter for youth up to the age of eighteen. Trust me when I say its not as bad as some think, in fact, it'll make our community safer, and protect our local homeless youth from getting into trouble in the first place. The word "Homelessness" and "shelter" often scare people. If kids are left outside with nowhere to go, they often get into a lot of trouble. You're more likely to have your car rummaged through, or even stolen. Youth that are put into these situations are more likely to suffer from drug use, addiction, mental health issues, and employment related barriers.
Homeless youth will also commit other property crimes to help get themselves by. This is the kind of behaviour that we need to stop. If we can help our local youth get off the streets at night, it only contributes to a safer community. If we chose not to engage in a way to keep them off the streets, we're then contributing to the crimes, by not taking a proactive approach to address the issue.
The model that is used in other communities with success, is the curfew model, that keeps them in at night with a 9:00 PM curfew, and keeps them indoors for not only keeping them safe, but lessoning our community crime.
I would also add that we have a duty to care for our youth community. We often lose perspective for youth that are kicked out of their homes for various reasons, sometimes, with no where to go.
I think the location would be best suited if it were transformed into the look of a residential house, rather than a commercial building, or even using the space as a park. The train tracks, which run right behind the building on the south side, make it a challenging structure to work with. With that being said, I feel the best way we can use the building, is one that continues to help protect our community.
Why did I call this "The Fort"? Please click on the link below, and read the history of the RCMP. I think this would be a great way to honor the past, current, and future RCMP members, for all the hard work they do in our community.
I would also like you to know that there is a program called the Federal Lands Initiative. This initiative could see the building donated by the Federal Government for our exclusive use, as it would remain a community building. If we do not use the building for a community purpose, we would not qualify for the Federal Lands Initiative. There is also an opportunity to see Federal money flow in to repair the building, removing the burden to the Cochrane tax payor.
I would also like to note that the building could potentially be split in to two sections, with the other portion being used as a separate community office for whatever the community would benefit from.
As this would be an idea I'd like to see move forward, to end two key issues in our community (Youth Homelessness, and some of the crime) we can explore other options under the initiative to keep building.
Please click the following link for more information of the Federal Lands Initiative.
4.Enhancing resources for the Citizens on Patrol is a very important part of community policing. The volunteers who take part in these community initiatives are silent hero's in the night, keeping watch over us. I would like to work with, and provide additional resources to expand, and enhance the program. Through research, the community would be better off with marked community policing vehicles that replicate a police vehicle, but say "Community Policing" or " Citizens On Patrol" on them. While these vehicles patrol neighbourhoods, they stand out to any criminal. Also, while parked in neighbourhoods, they display not only a presence, but deter crime when they're seen by criminals.
We also have another advantage for having community policing vehicles, and that's using our citizens On Patrol members to conduct "speed watches". When Our Citizens On Patrol conduct a "speed watch" in our neighbourhood, they free up the time of RCMP officers, and Community Peace Officers, which gives them more time to conduct other enforcement work in our community.
An additional benefit to having an advanced Citizens On Patrol program, is not having to immediately hire more RCMP officers, or Community Peace Officers right away. As we grow, we'd able to save more of your tax money, by having volunteers take part in our community policing activities. These types of programs are highly beneficial to the retirement community, or any person that can volunteer just a few hours a week, per volunteer.
Increasing Municipal income, and managing our money
We need to look at how we can do more for our community, while spending less. It's unrealistic to look at municipal taxes (residential and business) as our largest source of income. We need to create new innovative ways to earn income. Once we do this, we'll actually be able to make dents in debt reduction, and that's one way to keep property taxes low. Community spending also needs to be balanced. We need to do more due diligence before we continue to spend municipal money. The Cochrane Voter Initiative, would greatly help us in determining our actual wants and needs, and provides us a great tool to ensure we're all taking part in assessing those needs.
When it comes to saving more of our own personal money, I would like to see a reduction in our utility fee charges. Our utility bill fees, far surpass our actual usage, and for years, we have been charged for upgrading, where no real upgrades have taken place. I know that we can investigate utility fees, and work with the companies to try and reduce some of those fees.
I think the best approach, is one where we look at shifting the municipal franchise fees the town charges to the utility companies, back to the companies, and off the backs of Cochranites. It should be noted, that we still need to collect the fees, as they are used in our budget, however we need the companies to pay their own fees.
When we look at franchise fees, we need to understand how franchises work. It's really simple. A company looking to do business under a larger company, or would like to use lands to conduct business, pay to the entity a fee to operate. What's truly confusing, is why we allow the utility companies the ability to charge the customer the fee, verses paying the fee themselves, after all, they want to do business here. We need to understand that the current model, is not how franchise fees are structured in the modern age. The consumer doesn't pay the franchise fee, the business that wants to operate, pays their own fees. Municipal Franchise Fee, and local access fees that we see on our utility bills, are just a better way to put a name on a tax. I want to get rid of them.
If for any reason we are unsuccessful in negotiations, our next best move, would involve finding more municipal income to offset the fees that makeup our budget, and remove the fees altogether.
So, can we save on our utility bills? YES WE CAN! However, we'll need someone on Council that understands how this works, and the best ways to approach plans that will make a difference.
Now we need to look at ways of increasing municipal income from other sources. We need to look at two utility companies that do not pay any fees, Shaw Cable and Telus home. They have facilities in the ground, and otherwise conduct business the same as the others. However, these two companies do not get charged a fee by the town. What I will be spearheading, is getting council on board with adding a municipal franchise fee to both these companies, and enact a municipal law that ensures the companies are not charging the fees back to the residents of Cochrane.
We need to use every available tool that we have, to try and do this. It's really important to me, that we all understand that the deals made, and what worked 50+ years ago, doesn't always work for us today. I'm digging deep into every possible bylaw, and legislation to see where a change can be made. I understand you think the companies will just find another way to charge us, but council has the powers to enact bylaws to prevent this.
I understand no other Councillor has tried to do this, and that's a problem for me. The job of our Councillors is to ensure they look out for our best interests, and they are working for us, by continuing to review municipal matters on their own time, and bring matters forward that are in the interest of the Municipality. Councillors need to complete the necessary research to ensure they are taking every measure possible to enhance our lives, both at a personal level, and at the community level.
So, moving forward, I'd like to discuss avenues I would like to explore to enhance our civic wealth. One would be increasing NON resident Corporate business license fees. We are under cutting ourselves big time. I've done the research on this. Here are some examples of where we need to improve.
Lets look at who a NON resident Corporate business is; Walmart, Shoppers Drug Mart, Dollarama, Sport Chek, amongst others. Now, lets see how much they pay other areas, and what we charge.
- Edmonton $559
- Grand Prairie $525
- Calgary $768
- Lethbridge $774
- Cochrane $320
We have to ask ourselves, why are we cutting ourselves short? The companies I used as an example, pay other jurisdictions those amounts for their business license fees. In some cases that's the base rate. The rates do go up depending on square footage. I know we can meet or exceed these amounts. This increases our municipal income.
Another avenue Id like to explore is an increased MHT (Municipal Hotel tax) of up to 16% combined total. Currently the combined tax is 12%. Communities all over Canada are either already doing this, or, are starting to do this. Its additional revenue, that we as a community would benefit from. When tourists stay in our Hotels, the money stays here. The money from our own increased MHT would greatly increase our municipal income for anything that we want to put it towards. Another 4% revenue would greatly add to our municipal income. As of right now there is 5% charged for GST, 4% Tourism fee, and 3% destination marketing fee, which is optional for hotels to charge. I think we need to add 4% to meet other areas, and increase the money we would make off of tourists.
So, this is the kind of thinking we need on Council. I fully expect that Cochrane will lead the way in new business deals to help grow our economy, and actually start lowering our taxes, and paying down our debt. I want you to know, that if we don't start finding new ways to earn income outside of municipal tax dollars, we'll have to build even more homes to earn additional money to sustain ourselves. If we continue following the current themes and trends we see today, the next generation will be on the hook for our short comings. This includes my own children, and future grandchildren. I wholeheartedly feel that we can do better, and if elected, I WILL do better for us.
Moving on, I would also like to review old bylaws, such as recreational use travel trailer storage, and the viability of allowing units that do not impede on, or surpass a driveway line, allowing you to save your money in storage fees. Trailers are allowed to be parked on driveways for the majority of the year, and really, what's a few more months? After all, you bought the property, not the town. I also understand that this project comes with some opposition, however, we need to understand that not everyone owns a trailer, and the actual amount of trailers used on a driveway would be very little. The more money people can save, the more money they'll have for themselves, or spend in our community, on our small businesses. I think we need to visit a pilot project to see the viability of something like this.
Adopt-a-park, Adopt-a-road-, Adopt-a-path, are all something we do not have, but should have. When a program like this is in place, we can offset hiring new town employees to help care for our local areas with garbage cleanup. one initiative that I would like to see, is one that places the recognition back on you, the resident. I would like to see a sign bearing the name of the individual, family, or business at the entrance of the path, park, or road they take care of. This works well in other areas, and I'd like to bring that here.
Enacting more volunteer based, community engagements will help us offset wages. What this means, is we should enact more of a volunteer based outlook by using community volunteers, and students from the high schools to help care for the community. For students, this is valuable work experience which can go towards earned hours for future consideration of employment with the town when a position becomes available, or to use in other areas of their job search. Not to confuse the situation, the current town employees we have now, would remain in their positions, but we should look to have more volunteers before we always look at hiring new employees to do the job that can be done with volunteers. this initiative would save on wages, which helps ensure your taxes are kept low.
There's so much more I'm looking forward to working on, and I plan on diving deep into ways to save more money for the town, and you. I want to be able to share more ideas as we progress.
Please see the Town Financial Info tab for additional information. This will give you an understanding where we are at today, and some historical information.
Slowing Community Growth
This is huge. We are slowly losing our small town community feel. The projected estimate from the CMRB (Calgary Municipal Regional Board) is doubling our population in the next twenty-five year’s. Where's everyone going to go?
Currently, with the CMRB, there is a plan for higher density growth. The board labels the growth plan as using responsible land use, reducing emissions, and water conservation. This plan would require us to start building upwards, or outwards. That's not what I want, I will be voting with the mindset that we need to retain our small town western heritage feel.
If we allow ourselves to increase by half of our current population in the next 12.5 years, the 15,000 additional people or so, estimated by the Calgary Municipal Regional Board, would result in all roads and infrastructure needing to be redone, and further schools built.
My vision is simple, and one that I hope you see too, and that's keeping Cochrane the way it is for now. I would like to see a hold in major residential development until we can better understand our need for growth, if we even need it. I would also like to question some of the current approved permits, and see where we can cancel any permits, without creating civil litigation.
I also wanted to share that Cochrane is a part of the CMRB, and it is mandated that we stay in the program. I think we need to make as many calls, and send as many letters to the Provincial Government as needed, in an attempt to withdrawal ourselves from the program, and stick to our own community development and growth plan. I'm afraid that if we stay in the program, we'll eventually lose our ability to have our individual say. Already, the tough questions that need to be asked by council, are not being asked. We need a new approach to how we slow our growth, and ensure the CMRB (Calgary Municipal Regional Board) doesn't take over our decision making abilities. Having a voice on council that will reject major development, will help ensure we keep our community identity.
Affordable housing is becoming a big issue right here in Cochrane. Rent is becoming more and more expensive everyday. We need to remember that we are all different, and come from different financial backgrounds. I would like to echo what many residents are talking about, and that's how we can bring more affordable housing to Cochrane.
Through community initiatives, and partnerships with local apartment housing giants such as Mainstreet, and private owners of multiple units, I'd like to approach these companies and owners, to find a way to dedicate portions of their buildings or units, to help low income Cochrane residents secure affordable housing.
Cochrane has become very expensive, everything from fuel, food, and utilities have increased. We also need to think about our current senior population, and our current aging population who live on restricted budgets. Affordable housing is often a barrier for some residents, and the municipality needs to ensure its elected officials are working hard on finding ways to produce affordable housing for its community.
Going forward, I want you to know that your input is extremely valuable, and I want you to understand that I'm highly approachable. I want to ensure I'm working with everyone in the community who wants to collaborate on how we should move our community forward. Since starting my campaign, I've met with many voters, who all share the same concerns. I have done the required research, and I'm ready to present real plans to council, that will address the issues we as a community face. Council has a duty under division 3 sec 153 of the MGA (Municipal Government Act) to bring matters forward that are in the best interests of the community. Forward collaborative thinking, will ensure Cochrane will be viewed as leaders by other municipalities, after all, we're leaders here, not followers.
I wanted to say thank you for taking the time to read over my platform, and allowing me to present a real plan, not just an idea. I hope you give me an opportunity this election year, to get us back on track. This entails increasing our much needed municipal revenue by presenting innovative ideas, enhancing our community protection, ensuring council uses its political voice on health care, slowing down our growth, and most importantly, giving you your voice back.
Brandon Cruze For Town Council (Facebook page) Please like, and follow the page for updates!