Living Within Our Means: The City Budget

August 30, 2017

When I meet with residents in Ward 11, the single most common issue that I hear at the door is the rate at which city taxes and fees for Calgarians continue to rise. As a candidate, one of the key items on my mind is making sure City Hall and administration, ‘lives within our means’.

I believe that the incoming council, needs to focus on making sure we are providing the services Calgarians require, while also taking an honest look at city finances and improve delivery and efficiency of those services. As councillor, I would champion and work with administration to make sure that we are looking at a 0% tax increase for property owners within the city and challenge administration at all levels to find innovative solutions and areas of improvement.

Our Issues:

  • Spending at City Hall continues to increase at levels higher than inflation. The City of Calgary total budgets outlined in the 2015-2018 Action Plan have an Operating budget of $3.69 B (2017) and a Capital program of $7.6 B (2015-2019).
  • Even though Calgary was hit dramatically by the economic downturn in 2014, and many large and small businesses in the city were forced to the adjust their own budgets and salaries, the number of full time employees at City Hall has increased.
  • While Calgary’s population has continued to grow since 2014, the cost of service delivery per capita has far exceeded inflation and the cost difference has been burdened by taxpayers.

My Strategies:

  • Incorporate Financial Metrics in Performance Measures for City Departments – The City uses a Strategic Planning strategy which identifies high level priorities at the Council level and City Departments generating performance measures from the those priorities. Based on The City of Calgary Action Plan (2015-2018), of the 286 performance measures for the various departments, only 33 have a financial component. As these performance measures are used to determine the success and improvement requirements of departments, there should be a fiscal element for these decisions.
  • Expand the Independence of the City Auditor’s Office from City Administration – The role of the City Auditor is to provide City Council with objective assurance and insight on the effectiveness and efficiency of governance, risk management and internal control processes. This role needs to be expanded to include providing City Council the tools to provide informed governance on financial issues such as the City Budget.
  • Create a Culture of Change & Innovation – Creating a space for innovation and promoting a culture of change is critical. When I talk with employees at the city, both current and former employees feel there is room for change. Encouraging collaborative conversations between leadership and front-line staff will provide opportunities to create efficiencies and streamline city processes.
  • Reform Reporting Formats – The role of municipal reports should be to provide facts and information to Calgarians. Yet presently our city markets it’s budget report to justify the spending of administration rather than an impartial report to citizens and taxpayers.  A budget document should not convince the reader that the spending is justified, it should present the facts through an unbiased lens. We should instead have a budget report to citizens from the city auditor that provides information based analysis to Calgarians.
  • Adopting an Agile System for Business Planning – The City utilizes long-term strategic plans (Imagine Calgary, Municipal Development Plan, Calgary Transportation Plan) to inform the departments of the overarching business plan and therefore the budgets. The current system has 4 year Business Plans that do not align with the rate at which our world and society is changing. A more agile system must be adopted, which allows the City to be more responsive to:
    • Societal Changes
    • Economic Volatility
    • New Technologies 
  • Using Full-Time Employees or Contracting The Project – For City Administration, there are projects and tasks where honest questions need to be asked on resources; is this a job for employees or contractors. There are many examples within the City where contract employees would be a better option (ie. Design Services, Sign Shop, Fleet Maintenance, Engineering, etc.,). The City needs to have a strategy at evaluating when a service should be provided through a fixed expense or when it is more cost effective to take a variable approach.

 


Flood Mitigation & Ward 11

August 21, 2017

Flood Mitigation In Ward 11

During the campaign, I will be discussing the issues facing Ward 11 residents. The next topic I want to dive into is, Flood Mitigation in Ward 11.


In 2013, our city was devastated by flooding of both the Bow and Elbow rivers. Many neighbourhoods in Ward 11, including The Beltline, Cliff Bungalow, Elbow Park, Mission, Rideau Park, Roxboro, Riverdale, and Erlton, were overcome by flood waters. Damages to City infrastructure alone totaled $445M (with only $166M recoverable through insurance); and our downtown core, an economic engine of this city, was essentially shut down for over a week. The impact of the flood was staggering and estimates put the total economic cost at $5-$6 billion.

While this summer has been one of the warmest in recent memory, we must not lose track of the lessons from 2013. While our city is slowly recovering from the downturn in 2014, as I talk with residents and businesses within the ward, residents tell me that if we were to be hit again by another flood, we may not be able to recover as swiftly as 2013. The concerns I have are whether or not small businesses in our ward will be able to survive another flood; and would we as a city have enough economic resources to recover?

Our Issues:

  1. The work currently completed by the City and Province have only reduced the overall risk of another flood by 30%.
  2. Residents and businesses, especially in the northern portion of Ward 11, are concerned with the potential economic damage a second flood would cause to our already fragile economy.

My Strategies:

  1. I believe we need to continue with the Springbank Dry Dam Project and City Council needs to work with the Province to have it ready for 2021. The Dam Project is a diversion channel which would carry water from the Elbow River to the off-stream reservoir, which will have a storage capacity of 70.2 million cubic metres. This project will provide the needed safety mechanism to mitigate a flood the size of 2013.
  2. I believe City Council needs to work with the Province to build additional upstream storage on the Bow River. The Province has a responsibility to develop upstream infrastructure on the Bow River to mitigate the impact of high rainfall years. This includes potential projects such as: a dam upstream on the Bow River, as well as extending the TransAlta Agreement for the Ghost Dam.
  3. I believe the city needs to continue to look at applying technology solutions for operational excellence. The city should continue to improve the real-time monitoring of the entire watershed. This will allow the City the lead time needed to make optimal operational decisions.

Ward 11 Outcomes:

Once the Springbank Dry Dam Project, and upstream storage on the Bow River are completed, our city will be in a better position to handle a flood similar to the one that hit the city in 2013. The completion of these two projects, as well as other measures, will also help alleviate a majority of the concerns of not only residents, but businesses within Ward 11. In addition, by continuing to improve our monitoring process and looking at new solutions, we can also position ourselves in a more proactive role for any potential floods. It’s why I believe that as your councillor, we need to have an advocate on City Council who will not lose focus on this important issue, continue to push city administration to find new solutions and monitoring tools, and work with all levels of government to ensure mitigation efforts are moving forward.


The City’s Engagement and Communication Process with Citizens

August 3, 2017

The City's Engagement and Communication Process With Citizens

Over the next ten weeks of the campaign, I will be discussing the issues facing Ward 11 residents. The first topic I want to dive into is how we can start improving The City’s Engagement and Communication Process with Citizens.


One of the reasons I decided to run for Councillor in Ward 11 was because of the concerns I have with the City of Calgary’s current engagement process. Over the past several years, many friends, family members, and residents of Ward 11 have expressed their concerns and frustrations with how the the City is sharing information and getting feedback from residents. In many cases, people tell me that they feel they were never properly informed of upcoming decisions or that the outcome of the engagement sessions were all but decided by the time the City came to the community for input.

Our Issues:

  1. The City spends a significant amount of money on engagement and communication strategies, without the ability to quantify the results of these practices.
  2. Residents tell me that they feel that the City does not listen or respect their input or concerns related to projects and services.
  3. When people don’t feel they are properly engaged on topics, they feel isolated and not heard on key issues.

My Strategies:

  1. Engage Earlier – Involvement should occur at the beginning and strategic stages of planning, not at the end, when you do not get a strong say in what is happening. City administration should be required to engage with communities at earlier stages of the process. As your councillor I will provide regular updates regarding major projects in the ward.
  2. Ensure Policy Best Practices and Compliance – The Engage Policy CS009 is already in place to govern the actions of the administration related to the engagement process. We need to ensure that these frameworks are being followed by city officials and that we are always improving upon processes. We should look to and reflect on best practices across other municipalities, and use those ideas to improve our own process.
  3. Leveraging Technology – There are a significant number of technologies and platforms, that can offer a more effective form of communication between us and the City. We need to look at updating the Engage web site to improve conversation and feedback.

Ward 11 Outcomes:

As Councillor for Ward 11, one of the tasks I will look into is improving the guidelines set out in the City’s Engage Policy CS009. The current policy and framework is open ended about the administration’s ability to decide when the engagement process occurs. A certain amount of flexibility makes sense to ensure that the policy can be applied to the variety of services and projects the City offers. It is important the rules relating to the stage at which the City talks with you must be better outlined and defined to ensure it occurs early on in any project process.

I will also start looking into the current online tools for engaging with you. There are two web sites that the city is currently using (and testing) to get citizen feedback – The Calgary Engage web site and Civic Innovation YYC. The current Engage web site is a good start, but when you drill down to a specific topic, you cannot log a comment or leave a message. Also we need to make sure that the data collected from the web sites is used effectively. We need to know: Are the web sites being used? How is city officials or staff using these tools? And are your comments and ideas reaching the administrators in charge of these areas?

The other item I will address is the engagement event process. In particular, city council needs to have an honest look as to whether or not these events are the proper way to reach you. The reach of engagement events has fallen due to changes in how we all communicate. The current event process makes it difficult for those with other commitments and cannot attend to have meaningful impact. Citizen impact should not be determined by your availability to attend meetings – all opinions deserve to be heard and respected. We need to look at the event process and see how we can improve this for your busy lifestyle.


Why I’m Running

July 26, 2017

Why I'm Running

Over the past two months, I have been meeting with and listening to residents of Ward 11 at their doors and at numerous community events. During these conversations I get asked many questions on the major issues concerning residents of Ward 11. From questions regarding taxes, transportation, flood mitigation and some of the upcoming big ticket items being proposed at City Hall.

The other question I am asked frequently during these conversation is Why am I running?

My decision to run as Councillor for Ward 11, was made with the encouragement of many ward residents, along with business and community leaders. From a personal standpoint, I am passionate about being an active public servant – I continue to have the energy, the experience and the willingness to serve residents by championing their views and priorities as a representative of my neighbours in City Hall.

The three areas where I feel City Hall can improve upon are:

  • Citizen engagement and impact on city projects – One of the concerns I have is that city processes have to be respectful and include an open two-way communication about projects outcomes. I believe that engagement is about interaction and joint resolution to a problem, this process should not be a “check the box exercise” to only inform or offer limited choices to Calgarians. I believe that Ward 11 needs a Councillor at City Hall who will work to ensure citizen engagement is truly collaborative.
  • We have to live within our means – Another concern that many residents have raised is prudent management of tax dollars by the city; I believe public policy should encourage entrepreneurship and ensure that the tax and fee burden is fairly shared between residents and businesses across all areas of the city. And most importantly, at all times, spending by city hall has to be done to solve clearly defined problems and it needs to be monitored so desired outcomes are achieved.
  • Maintaining our Thriving Neighbourhoods – The communities that encompass Ward 11 are some of the most diverse, energetic and welcoming areas of our City. The current strength of Calgary, and one that I believe we need to maintain, is that there is sufficient housing, transportation, retail and community options available to support Calgarians of all demographics and income levels.

Since my campaign launch, I have had hundreds of conversations with residents of Ward 11 – overall we are all proud of our city and what has been achieved. The specific concerns I have heard all line up within the three items I outlined above.

In my opinion, the areas needing priority attention are:

  • Transportation – whether you drive, take public transit or cycle – projects should be undertaken that make common sense and serve our needs today and in the future.
  • Flood mitigation – The Flood of 2013 remains a major concern to residents of Ward 11 – whether it is to protect the economic viability of the downtown or the personal homes in the floodplain. Diligence has to be maintained regarding defensive actions taken and planned to ensure we do not experience such devastation again.
  • Development Matters – Residents of Ward 11 live almost evenly in apartment/condo buildings and single family homes. City policy has to be respectful of the choices made by individuals in the past while anticipating what housing will look like in the future. Our current housing inventory has allowed schools, businesses and community services to open and thrive – future zoning changes must be balanced in order to maintain and expand services to maintain our current quality of life.

As Councillor for Ward 11, I believe I can bring my understanding of community dynamics to create respectful solutions; I can use my understanding of business to evaluate city hall decisions; and I can use my previous experience of being elected to ensure timely and respectful actions are taken for the good of the city.

I passionately believe one person can make a difference – whether as an individual, a community member, as an employee, a business owner, and especially as an elected official. My reputation is strong as a constituency focused public servant – listening and acting on behalf of the concerns of those I am accountable to – all the electors of my area. My previous experience of working with elected and department officials of our provincial government is the ideal prerequisite to be an effective Councillor for Ward 11. In summary, I have been a resident of southwest Calgary since 1986, raising my family and experiencing the aches and pains of our turbulent economy; benefitting from the historic and ongoing entrepreneurial initiatives of the Calgary business community. As your representative, I will positively work to bring the right resources to the right project at the right time to meet the needs of Ward 11.

On October 16th, 2017 we will each have the opportunity to vote for members of Calgary City Council. My name will be on the ballot for Ward 11 Councillor. I ask for your support in the October civic election.

Regards,

Linda M. Johnson


The Johnson Stampede Social

June 25, 2017

Johnson Stampede Social

Come out and kick-off Stampede week with Linda Johnson. Enjoy the first beef on the bun of the season and learn more about Linda’s campaign for Ward 11 (and wish her a Happy Birthday!). Come enjoy great music, fantastic conversation and get to know Linda’s team.

Details:

Meadowlark Park Community Association
623 58 Avenue Southwest
Calgary, AB T2V 1V7
When: Thursday, July 6th, 2017.
Time: 5:00pm to 8:00pm.

Ticket Includes:

Free Drink Ticket.
Beef on A Bun Dinner.
Entrance to the event.