Mayor Jeff Genung says a pair of major town projects will be wrapping up in 2023 and it's now time to set the course to address and plan for other needs.
In discussing some of the anticipated milestones for the year ahead, Mayor Genung says the town's Hwy. 1A corridor upgrade will be completed and the new Protective Services Building will open early in the summer.
The construction of the Alberta government's Hwy. 1A-22 interchange project is also expected to begin in the spring.
"It will be good to see the shovels in the ground and that bottle of champagne finally uncorked," he says. "There'll be a big sigh of relief from the entire community to see that long overdue project finally get underway."
During his State of Cochrane address on Feb. 9, he will be providing a snapshot of town finances, budget, strategic planning, and priorities that will dovetail into a broader community visioning exercise.
Council and administration will be taking a deeper dive into the nuts and bolts of pursuing these needs as part of its spring strategic planning session.
He says council has already been discussing the urgent need for a new town operations centre.
"But that's just the tip of the iceberg," says Genung, "We'll start talking about bigger plans for the future of Cochrane, like the next rec centre, getting our tech incubator up and running, looking at the financial plan and 10-year capital plan to outline the needs of our community, what opportunities and barriers we see, and what we need to focus on so we don't get ourselves into the same situation as trying to catch up, like our transportation infrastructure. Maybe we'll even get ahead of some of these things before they become an issue."
"I've already started to hear from a lot of the rec user groups about more needs for ice, ball diamonds, skate parks, etc., and more so having a clear path and a vision on how we can build some of these amenities and follow our plans, priorities, and principles around growth-pay-for-growth. We'll outline those in our off-site levies so future growth is paying for some of the amenities we're talking about."
Big Hill Lodge
Genung says addressing the need for a new Big Hill Lodge for seniors is among the priorities for 2023.
He's already met with Jeremy Nixon, the most recently appointed Seniors, Community and Social Services minister. Every time a new minister is appointed (and there have been several in recent years), the town has made representation to press home the need for provincial funding for the lodge.
Working towards that end, the town is completing a study on service upgrades required for its 5th Ave property that will help pave the way for the development of the seniors lodge, and a multi-purpose community centre.
"The concept plan for that will be unfolded this year so that fundraising can get underway for that much-needed project," he says.
Passenger rail service
He remains optimistic about the proposed establishment of a passenger rail service between Calgary and the mountain parks. Genung chairs an alliance of Bow Valley communities pushing for the mass transit project
"I'm hoping there could be an announcement in the spring about the project going to the next phase for design."
While calling it a plus for Cochrane, he also recognized it comes with the challenge of establishing a rail stop in the community.
Lobbying for better deal from province
Finding a way to finance a long list of capital projects is top of mind for the mayor, and that falls in line with his ongoing lobby for a better deal for Cochrane and all mid-sized cities in Alberta.
To that end, provincial government relationships remain one of his top priorities. With a provincial election anticipated in May, he intends to further intensify those efforts, both for Cochrane and the Mid-sized Cities Mayors' Caucus, which he chairs.
"We've got a change of government happening in the spring so another big opportunity for Cochrane to position ourselves in not only the eyes of the current government as they vie for re-election, but also whoever forms the new government in the spring."
No matter who wins, he anticipates a cabinet shuffle and that means more footwork.
On behalf of the mayor's caucus, Cochrane has invited the leaders of Alberta's major political parties to a session in March at the Cochrane RancheHouse. There, the leaders will be able to present their platforms and meet with municipal leaders prior to the provincial election.
Cochrane hosted a similar event in advance of the 2019 provincial election.
A major point of contention is the proposed formula for the Local Government Fiscal Framework (LGFF) being introduced in 2024. The mayors believe communities like Cochrane will receive 25 per cent less in infrastructure funding from the province.
The group has been stepping up its lobby, and he believes it's having an impact. In December, they met with 11 chiefs of staff of Alberta ministries and Municipal Affairs minister Rebecca Schultz.
"We're already attracting the attention of the province. We're positioning ourselves to have the [provincial political)] leaders deliver their platforms to us, and getting their attention around a mid-sized cities charter is a huge priority of mine and many of the mayors to get a better idea from the province."
From a Cochrane perspective, he says it's a must.
"As an economic engine of Alberta, we need to be funded appropriately so we can keep up with the growth, keep up with the expectations, and keep up with the needs of our residents."