The importance of citizen participation in government

Officials are grateful to those who took time to respond to the 2017 Budget Survey

BY STEVE CHRISTIE

Mayor of Lacombe

I believe that a citizen-centred approach is an important component in municipal decision-making and problem-solving processes.

Council recognizes that certain decisions can be enhanced by engaging citizens, and we are therefore committed to accessible public participation processes that are respectful, meaningful and accountable.

The City of Lacombe is committed to engaging with the public, where appropriate, to inform, consult, involve, collaborate, or empower citizens.

Public involvement has been sought in large planning initiatives like the Imagine Lacombe the Municipal Sustainability Initiative Plan; the Downtown Area Revitalization Plan; Growing Lacombe the Municipal Development Plan Update and most recently, the 2017 Main Street Project, the Land Use Bylaw Review and the 2017 Budget Survey.

This year as part of the 2017 Budget preparations, we conducted a survey to gauge how citizens feel about the way their tax dollars are being spent.

We are delighted to have received 263 responses over a three-week period.

The 2017 Budget Survey addressed the following areas: demographics, value for money, tax guidance and operations-based questions. It also provided citizens with an opportunity to submit their comments and opinions.

The demographics questions helped to determine who was completing the survey and their status within the community.

The largest single age group to respond were 31- to 40-year-olds with 32% of responses. They were followed by the 41-50 and 51- to 60-year-olds, each having 19% and 20% respectively.

Almost 60% of 263 respondents have lived in Lacombe 10 years or more, and 85% of respondents are home owners.

Value for money questions were asked to gauge respondents’ perception of the value received for their tax dollar.

The categories surveyed included recreation programs, municipal facilities, utility services, police and fire services and City administration. The results indicate that most citizens feel that they get fairly good to very good value from the services listed.

We also asked residents for feedback on the quality of services over the last 12 months, and whether they felt that the quality of services has changed.

Seventy-six per cent of respondents think that the quality of services have remained about the same, 6.5% indicated that they felt that the City has improved and approximately 11% felt that there was a decline in service during this time-frame.

A series of tax guidance questions for the upcoming budget year were posed to survey takers to determine the best way to pay for the increasing costs of running a city, and what options citizens would least support.

Results indicate that 31% of respondents were happy to see a combination of property tax and user fee increases to balance the budget, and 26% chose a combination of service level cuts, a small increase in property taxes and user fees. Fifty-eight per cent of respondents would not support a sole increase in property taxes, and 19% would not support cuts to existing service levels to reduce taxes.

Next, respondents were asked if municipal services were to be reduced, where they would like to see reductions.

There were a variety of responses, ranging from a reduction in policing to changes in solid waste pickup schedules. Also mentioned were reductions in snow removal, administration costs and reduced spending on the arts.

With regard to planning, respondents were asked what top three priorities the City should address over the next 12 to 24 months. The responses revealed that increased economic development and local retail shopping opportunities are among the top priorities.

The survey included a knowledge-based question regarding public awareness around the levy for the Alberta School Education Tax.

Around 20 to 25% of all taxes collected municipally are remitted for the Alberta School Education Tax. This information will be used to form part of the education piece of the budget going forward.

The final question asked respondents to allocate $100 on a range of services offered by the City. The survey results in order of priority are as follows:

1. Roads services

2. Recreation

3. Parks and trails

4. Community services such as events and support services

5. Protective services (fire, emergency management, police)

6. Transit (increase routes,<

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