Why Change Was Needed
Over the last 20 years, Rocky View County Council's track record has been mixed, at best. We are hopeful that the new Council elected in October 2021 will be more transparent and accountable than past councils. Residents will need to watch diligently and hold the new councillors to their campaign commitments.
The previous Council had shown promise immediately after its election; however, the majority on the 2017-2021 Council quickly demonstrated that they wanted to turn Rocky View into the last bastion of the wild west - a place with no rules and no respect for policy or procedures. Worse, they blatantly ignored the clear preferences of the residents who elected them. The pressures still exist to revert to the old "normal" of pro-development at any cost.
So we don't forget why residents elected a much more resident-friendly majority in the October 2021 election, here are some of the core reasons why change was so badly needed. These were also highlighted in Rocky View Forward's advertisements during the 2021 election campaign. You can review those here.
Disregard for Rules and Process
The previous council majority failed to follow established rules and procedures on many important issues. Rules and procedures are important because they provide the assurance that decisions are being made appropriately; that council has considered relevant factors before making its decisions; and, that the same rules are applied for everyone.
Some of the most offensive decisions where the past council majority ignored proper process include:
Hiring the new CAO without following best-practice guidelines established by Municipal Affairs
Overriding procurement policy to award sole-source internet servicing contract to consultant championed by one councillor
Violating requirements in the MGA to rush through repealing the Firearms Bylaw
Quashing the Aggregate Resource Plan despite it being mandated in the County Plan and despite promises to ensure residents’ concerns were addressed
Suspending their own Procedure Bylaw to ram through approval of a highly unpopular Cambridge Park development in Conrich – after having tabled the contentious public hearing with a commitment to hold a second public hearing at a later date
Not listening to Residents
As well as ignoring rules and process, the last Council repeatedly demonstrated an even a worse track record than its predecessors in terms of completely ignoring and/or devaluing residents' interests and/or concerns.
Just a few of the more glaring examples of this distain for residents include:
The treatment of the Stop the Stench group in northeast RVC. They had been fighting a longstanding unlicensed, and malodorous compost facility operating adjacent to Thorlakson's feed lot
Cancelling the Aggregate Resource Plan without even attempting to find a resolution for the long-promised County-wide gravel policy. This after the public consultations generated more public input than any other policy in the County's history
Pushing through the revised Springbank Area Structure Plans and the Municipal Development Plan in the face of overwhelming opposition from County residents
Approving the high-density Ascension development in Bearspaw despite unanimous opposition from area residents
Previous council majority's "open for business" attitude meant that they were far too willing to accept the assertions of developers at face value. That frequently involved ignoring Administration’s recommendations for caution or outright refusal of applications.
They frequently approved development applications without exercising adequate due diligence to confirm the viability or accuracy of developer's claims. They also repeatedly ignored contradictory expert evidence presented by residents during public hearings.
Developers' consultation with affected residents is often inadequate. The last council majority allowed developers to use COVID restrictions as an excuse to avoid meaningful consultations with affected residents. Then when applications reached the public hearing stage, the last council majority regularly ignored or dismissed concerns and even vehement opposition from local residents.
In 2005, Rocky View took on significant debt to build what is still an underutilized water and wastewater infrastructure network in East Rocky View. The Council of the day assured residents that commercial development attracted by this infrastructure would easily pay down the debt within a decade. This has not happened - we still owe over $47 million in external long-term debt, plus an additional $45 – $50 million that has been taken out of the Tax Stabilization Reserve and/or paid directly out of county tax revenues with promises that developers will pay it back through off-site levies.
At the beginning of its term, the last Council signaled that it planned to be more fiscally responsible. However, that was an extremely short-lived promise. Instead, they frequently reduced or waived the off-site levy obligations for specific developers, which are intended to recoup infrastructure costs from benefiting developments. On top of that, they took an additional $9.6 million from the Tax Stabilization Reserve to extend piped servicing to West Balzac, without putting any cost recovery plan in place.
Before factoring in the internal borrowing from the Tax Stabilization Reserve, Rocky View has the second highest per capita long-term debt in the region. Only Calgary residents face a higher per capita debt. Worse, if all the promised upgrades to the East Rocky View water and wastewater systems go ahead this debt could reach $200 million.