On the heels of a $63,000 advertising campaign that focused on the city's plan for a municipal utility corporation, city council has only itself to blame for the many lingering questions residents have about the MUC.
We have less than a week to go until council debates whether to start up the MUC. In the past month, residents may have seen ads popping up on Edmonton media such as Global Television and Corus radio stations, as well as social media, the Gazette, or even while catching a movie at Landmark Cinema. It's part of a campaign declaring St. Albert is "preparing for prosperity" – and the longest of these ads, a six-minute video featuring St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron and city CAO Kevin Scoble, touts the utility corporation as a way the city can offset the impacts of falling revenues.
Yet Mayor Cathy Heron told the Gazette she believes the city hasn't done a good enough job educating people about the MUC.
It has been just over a month since the city released most of its preliminary business plan for the corporation. It has been just over a week since councillors heard resounding concerns from residents at a packed public hearing on the issue, where speakers and councillors alike questioned the numbers in the business plan the city commissioned, and indeed the viability of a corporation like this in a sea of competition.
Heron told the Gazette last week she must rely on the experts the city hired to create the business case, rather than bowing to "political pressure." Her takeaway from the public hearing was that the city needs to do a better job educating the public about the MUC.
The community response to Heron's characterization of taxpayer concerns as "political pressure," some of which you'll find in the Your Views section in this issue of the Gazette, speaks for itself. Her reaction begs the question of why council bothered with the charade of a public hearing at all, if the public's voice has so little influence on the final vote. Even the rest of city council expressed their views with respect for the taxpayer: Coun. Jacquie Hansen said she wanted to see more input, not less, and would like to see the decision delayed until the new year; even Wes Brodhead, who has said in the past he is ready to cast his vote, agreeed council needs to take residents' concerns into account.
It's understandable that the city is seeking new revenue streams. Municipalities are between a proverbial rock and a hard place as traditional funding sources stagnate or dry up. In the spring, the province will table its 2020 budget, which poses a great unknown that could affect the city's budget further. But an immediate need for revenue does not release councillors from doing their due diligence for the people who elected them. It's disheartening to hear the voice of the public is of little consideration to the leader of the city on this vitally important issue.
If Heron truly believes the concerns residents have are rooted in ignorance – concerns members of her own council share – then council should not move forward with this proposal until they believe they have done a proper job of informing the public.