Pendulums, dominos, perfect storms all come up when you talk to Mayor Jeff Genung about what awaits Cochrane in 2019.
Any way you look at it, there remains several pieces in perpetual motion that will this another year of opportunities and challenges.
After a brief Christmas break, Genung is eyeballing the chessboard with wide-eyed enthusiasm.
“I have a list at the back of the little journal I carry around with me of items that are really important priorities,” says Genung in a 45-minute year-end interview that leaves you feeling you’ve only scratched the surface. “There’s probably 20 or 25 ongoing things that are of high importance, not included all the emergent things that happen on a daily basis. It’s been a lot.”
He’s not complaining. He believes in Cochrane has a future many other communities can only dream of and he tries not to get inundated by the possibilities.
“I get overwhelmed when I zoom in too close but that’s not my job. To get involved too closely with any one thing, yes, it can be overwhelming but we have a great staff and we have a great council that are all willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work. I’m lucky in the aspect that I’m the mayor of a community with all of these things on the go.”
While being interviewed for a possible feature on Cochrane in the multi-platform Business View magazine, based out of Fort Myer, Florida., the floodgate opened.
“I started talking about Cochrane and what we have to offer and what’s going on and not just small things but massive projects.
“Grade separate crossings, twinning our pipeline to Calgary for wastewater, the heavy rail transit commuters we’re continuing to talking about in New Year, the tri-sites, the 1A-22 intersection, transit…. all these things. Maybe one of these things is what a different community is talking about but we have multiple massive transformational projects on the go.
“I heard back from them yesterday and they’ve chosen Cochrane to be highlighted in their magazine.”
Here’s the Reader’s Digest version of the mayor’s thoughts about what will continue to unfold in this New Year.
On Transit approval
“That was a big deal for not only the community but everybody involved, not just council, for moving that forward with something that’s been sitting idle for many years. It has been on the agenda for a long time and to finally put that in motion is a big win.”
Genung says the aim is now to get it right. Further details will start to unfold this month as the town gears up for an official launch on September 1, 2019. Pilots and free rides will be offered in the summer to get bugs out of the system.
Tri-Site Concept follow through
Since the public task force was assigned, Mayor Jeff Genung has stressed how Cochrane’s future will be defined in part by how the town uses three pieces of public land in the downtown core.
A phasing and implementation plan is to be prepared no later than mid-2019 by town administration to sort out all the steps that will have to take place to get the ball rolling.
“There’s a lot of moving parts and cascading effect and everything is intertwined so we need to start putting plans in place for all of the buildings so people can get excited about blueprints, about a sod turnings, about something actually coming out of the ground and not just a plan sitting idle and gathering dust. We will not let that happen.”
You can’t talk about tri-site land-use without slipping into the conversation on the small annexation in the works in the northwest corner of the community behind Heritage Hills and north of the massive Sunset community.
Both Rocky View County and the town has cleared the way for the annexation and expect to receive Alberta government approval by mid-year.
“We’re eyeballing mid-year, July 1, and it’s not really holding anything at this point, it just would be nice to have it done and off the list.”
The town has already set aside $1.4 million to purchase the land behind Heritage Hills from Rocky View Schools and have preliminary figures in its Parks and Recreation budget to begin recreational development on the land, including ball diamonds.
Bridging the Bow
The new Bow River crossing did not originate with this council but has aligned with their term.
Construction started Aug. 7 and at this point is on schedule and on budget to be completed in the fall of 2020. Estimated to cost $53.5 million, it is the town’s largest capital project ever following the $48 million-plus expansion of the Spray Lake Sawmills Sports Centre.
“It’s a massive project that has positive implications for traffic and to help our community connect."
"It’s cool to see the concrete starting to rise out of the water on either side and to see the roadway network starting to take shape. It ‘s something we can get excited about the opening.”
The town has lagged behind on the name of the bridge, town council mandated to be determined by a multi-tiered poll on “Let’s Talk Cochrane.” Narrowing it down to the final three choices was scheduled to occur late in 2018 but was waylaid.
“The bridge is not open for at least another year so there was no rush to name it right now. So let’s get it right and let’s take our time and that’s what we’re doing.”
For two years now council has been attempting to prepare the town for a reduction in the frequency of trash pickup to every other week. They’ve had pushback from the community and the mayor has received some threats from adamant naysayers.
Genung calls it an interesting challenge and doesn’t want to see the town come across too forceful but he also keeps in mind the big picture is to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.
“For me, what the town needs to focus on is we know what the target is and we know what the solution is, it’s education and awareness of residents. I think we’ve done an OK job trying to educate people on what goes in what bin but I believe we have a long ways to go yet.
“What I keep coming up with is that people are not sure. Most people want to do the right thing and put things in the right place but have to make it easier for them to know exactly what goes where and then things will fall into place a little bit more on their own.”
Smart City and Black Fibre
Genung and chief administrative officer Dave Devana went to the massive Consumer Technology Association (CTA) conference in Las Vegas last January before the town put in an unsuccessful bid for Smart Cities funding from the federal government. Genung believes further Smart City funding will be made available by the federal government earlier this year and he’s game to try again to land some funding for Cochrane.
The ad hoc committee that worked on the proposal last year remains active in the background.
“I’ve heard from a few of them and they are still excited and engaged and tweaking our application. I would totally be onboard with having another application go to the feds and if we could leverage some funding to do something and fast forward our ideas around smart cities and put Cochrane further on the map in that regards is just a no-brainer to me.”
Expansion of the town’s black fibre system—Fibre West—continues and is part of the next three years of capital spending.
“It would be my hope that we could develop Fibre West in such a way that pays for itself and starts to generate revenue. In a perfect world, it would be offsetting taxes and promoting more tech industry and making Cochrane more viable as a tech community for those businesses to locate here.”
Heavy Rail Transit
Again this is not a new idea. It’s been explored in the past, especially by Mayor Truper McBride, then revisited by Mayor Ivan Brooker. Work has continued in the background and a feasibility study will be released early in the New Year, possible during the Mid-Cities Mayors Meeting being hosted by Cochrane at the end of the month.
“To me, it’s super exciting to have a European-style rail connection between five-six communities including Calgary, RVC, Cochrane, Stoney Nakoda, Canmore and Banff. It’s transformational and it’s just exciting to be on the forefront of having it started.”
“What’s ironic about the whole thing is it’s not like we’re building it for the first time. We’re re-establishing it. It’s the reason why Cochrane is even a community in the first place, actually, most communities across Canada and maybe even the US are there because of the connection of the rail. So to have forgotten it was a mode of transportation and to have instead relied so heavily on single-use vehicles makes this is a swing back of the pendulums. This has worked for us in the past, let’s get back to it. It’s really exciting.”
A rare loud cheer was received for the decision to send back the proposed Jones Estate land, in Gleneagles, to the drawing board once again. Otherwise, council received some pushback from a community on development approvals. Many residents believe the housing market flooded and say the transportation infrastructure is ill-equipped to handle further growth at this point. Looming in the background is the need to find further water licences to accommodate future growth.
Yet Genung believes the approval of the Greystone development that will see the redevelopment of an old gravel pit along the Griffin Rd. corridor into commercial, industrial and residential land was essential. The proposal pre-dated this council but it was this one that gave the greenlight.
“I would have been in a different mood if we had said no to Greystone and we would be sitting here with the prospects of having very little or no commercial and nonresidential zoning approved for 2019, given the economy and way things are slowing down on the residential forefront. For us to be basing our budget on a four per cent assessment growth we would be doing so just on population."
"To rely on more people to move to our community when we have been told clearly that we need to get our infrastructure in place before we open the floodgates to more residential growth to me the answer to that is nonresidential so Greystone is really going to contribute to that in a massive way in 2019 and I’m really excited about that.”
Baffled over council pay pushback
Although a minute part of the town’s 2019 budget, the cost of council remuneration did increase to offset a change in federal taxation laws. In the end, councillors will receive a zero net gain in compensation, yet there’s been push back.
“I don’t want to ignore it. Some people have taken exception to it but I hope it will die down. I don’t take it lightly when somebody’s not happy with something but I do feel it was the right thing to do to make the adjustment. I’m a little disappointed some people are calling it a pay raise.
“I would get how upset some people are if councillors were getting a pay raise and taking home more money than we were last year, but to keep things at net zero take-home pay I don’t think is too much to ask."
“I believe our councillors are paid far too little for the workload they are expected to complete for the community. When people suggest they should do it for free then I would suggest they should walk a mile in the shoes of a councillor. I’m not talking about the mayor's pay, I think my wages are fair but the councillor wages are extremely low for the jobs they are expected to do.”
Ab extensive review of the council remuneration policy is scheduled to be complete in the first part of the year.