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Municipalities should encourage interest in the business

$33.5 million — not bad. A 649 lottery win? Nope. That's what the MD of Bonnyville has budgeted to collect in taxes this year for municipal purposes.

$33.5 million — not bad.

A 649 lottery win?

Nope. That's what the MD of Bonnyville has budgeted to collect in taxes this year for municipal purposes.

Its more compact and less financially expansive urban cousin, the Town of Bonnyville (I'm thinking the City of Cold Lake qualifies more as an estranged nephew these days), will hit up its taxpayers for considerably less, though it may not feel like it to town residents.

The cash collected by both governments will be used for a wide array of purposes —to upkeep and build roads, fund libraries, put out fires and subsidize an array of recreation options from skiing to minor hockey.

A chunk of it will go into things such as general administration and communications budgets — though both could use a little more, I'm thinking.

Allow me to share some observations as an outsider who dropped into the region about a month ago, and who is perplexed, sometimes amused, but generally dismayed with how our local governments approach basic information delivery to their citizens and the public in the 21st Century.

What they don't do, from what I've seen thus far, is passively encourage their citizens to pay attention to actions of their councils and bureaucrats.

Allow me a few examples. While both municipalities have reasonable well designed websites, those sites are short on things that are routine in other places, most notably council agenda packages.

Suppose you're one of those southeast Bonnyville homeowners who was interested in seeing what town administration recommended council should do with second and third reading of the recently passed Lakeview Estates area structure plan.

You go the town's website, and, even five days after the council meeting, there's not even a base agenda posted to tell you the issue was up for discussion on April 13 and that the plan included multi-family housing. No base agenda. No information package. Nada.

Not that you'll find anything significantly different at the MD's site. It will feed you press releases, but not much in the line of documents, other than a good number of useful statutory plans and maps.

The MD does deserve praise for holding town hall meetings annually for its residents.

Both local governments post their municipal development plans and landuse bylaws for example, so you can check the zoning in your neighbourhood without wasting the time of a municipal employee, but they could do so much more.

Looking for examples? The City of Red Deer posts its full agenda packages on line prior to council meetings, so Red Deer residents can see in advance what they might want to show up for or lobby against prior to council members taking their seats to get down to business. Red Deer's 78-page PDF file for its council meeting on April 19 was posted three days earlier. Same basic drill in Lethbridge, and Canmore and Banff... you get the picture.

Banff is actually a strangely interesting comparison with the MD, because they have similar assessment bases, and populations, though wildly different personalities.

But if some tourist town where 95 per cent of residents live within a 25-minute walk of the town office can post its agenda packages on line before meetings to inform its citizenry and encourage their democratic participation, why can't a rural municipality — where you may have to drive an hour to the office — do the same thing?

The answer is it can, but it chooses not to.

I'm not suggesting the MD is trying to hide anything.

I'm simply suggesting it's not in a hurry to broadcast the public's business and encourage public participation. The same is true of the town.

So while I can log on to Alberta Health's website and check the latest health inspection results for any number of Bonnyville eateries in about 10 seconds, it seems to me our local governments are in no hurry to tell us what's up, or encourage us to follow along what they do.

Think otherwise? Call me at 780-826-3876 or e-mail me at dhusdal@bonnyville.greatwest.ca. I'd really love to hear from you.