Chestermere residents have submitted a petition to the Alberta government, calling for an investigation into their municipal affairs.
Citing “a mayor and council that have lost touch with the people,” resident Laurie Bold delivered the petition Thursday. She said it had garnered 5,413 signatures–which is over a quarter of the total population (18,496 as of 2015, according to the city’s website).
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“The sad reality is, we need help here,” Bold said in a statement, claiming the majority of residents have lost confidence in the municipal government. She said issues ranged from a “questionable annexation request, to soaring property taxes, to a mismanaged city-run utility company that has seen rates skyrocket.”
Bold called the petition an “overwhelming vote of non-confidence.”
“For a long time I’ve been feeling something isn’t right here, with increase in taxes and increases in fees,” Bold told Global News Friday.
“People call me and have moved away, saying, ‘I wish you would have done it a year ago’ because they can’t afford to live here…There needs to be some accountability and we want them to open the books and see where our tax dollars are going.”
Bold’s husband, Rob, said their utility rates have averaged 18-and-a-half per cent annually for five years, “a 92 per cent increase.”
“These were decisions made by our council,” he said. “[Property taxes] are escalating in double digits year after year. Where does it come to the point it’s not sustainable?”
He said the petition shows citizens want change and transparency.
“We’ve got individuals that were original founders of Chestermere signing this: developers, doctors, lawyers, everyday people like us are concerned. They love the community but the direction we’ve been taken in is the wrong one.”
But Mayor Patricia Matthews said she hasn’t had an opportunity to speak with Bold because her offers have been “rebuffed.”
The mayor said there’s been a “great deal of transparency” with the concerns that came out of the city’s utility rate hike.
“We took the impact on residents as well as the results from our third party, independent consultant before we set those rates,” she said.
She said she, too, wants reasonable taxes, but said the city is doing a good job.
“What is really frustrating is that we are already doing a good job with making sure we keep on top of budget, with creating a low tax base. And we have all that information readily available to any member of the public at any time.
“We have done everything we can to put that information on our website, on social media, we’ve done face to face conversations. But there is misappropriation of information, and as a result, there’s misinformation in our community when residents deserve the facts.”
When asked what “misinformation” specifically was being circulated, Matthews suggested anyone with questions can talk to city staff.
“You’d have to take a look at all the information that council provides,” she said. “Anyone who has any questions has the ability to come in and talk to us, talk to staff about how tax rates are set, what’s involved in it. We’re doing a tax workshop for residents at the end of March to better explain how those rates are calculated.”
Matthews suggested cost to residents would only increase if the provincial government grants the investigation Bold’s petition is calling for.
“If Municipal Affairs does an investigation, it’s going to cost all us tens of thousands of dollars that will impact us as taxpayers when that information is available right now.”
Chestermere is located about 24 kilometres east of Calgary.