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Mayor highlights positive economic indicators in State of the City address

All indicators say the economy is “fully back.” That was a key takeaway from Mayor Bill Given’s 2018 State of the City Address.

Things like drilling licenses were up, highway and over-sized vehicle traffic continues to increase and numbers in the travel and tourism industry have also recovered. Given said recent numbers show Grande Prairie hotels had a 67 per cent occupancy rate, which are the same as rates in Banff. He acknowledged the economic recovery and growth that comes with the good times can be both a blessing and a curse.

“Grande Prairie’s been no stranger to the phenomenon where tremendous growth brings demand and strain on resources. We have an opportunity now to invest in the resources and the infrastructure and the services that we need to be prepared for that growth when it really starts to explode.”

He says that means investing in things like housing, infrastructure, public facilities and police. Another $2.4 million was added last year bringing the city’s investment in the RCMP yearly to about $20 million. The increase meant the addition of 17 more officers and five support staff. Given did say a new policing funding framework for Alberta would be helpful.

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Another part of the boom and bust cycle that Grande Prairie knows well can be a lack of housing. Given says a low number of new home builds is concerning.

“If you play that out over the next number of months we could run in to a situation where more and more people are coming to Grande Prairie because of the economic opportunities. If we don’t have housing available to them we could see a situation, as we have in the past, where rental rates increase to unaffordable levels and availability is almost next to nothing.”

Given says it would be a great opportunity for the city to partner with organizations who may be looking to fill that gap, especially for affordable housing. There have been a couple groups who have approached the city with plans for future developments including the Grande Spirit Foundation and the Canadian Mental Health Assoiation.

While the positive signs of the recovery are all around us Given says it is very much a localized trend.

“Grande Prairie is in a little bit of a bubble. The resource that we have here in terms of the Montney and Duvernay formations are unique, they’re specialized and they’re highly productive. They are one of the areas that can continue to operate at very low overhead rates.”

The truck traffic created by that area as well as others is tracked by the city through over-sized load permits. Those have also increased from 500 to 600 a month to more than 1100.

The State of the City also addressed the ongoing opioid crisis. Given got emotional when talking about the high number of overdoses we have seen. Grande Prairie has the highest number of overdose deaths in 2017. Given says it’s rare for municipal issues to be life or death.

“As an elected official you get in to this roll hoping to serve and hoping to make the community a better place. And I think the bare minimum for that is ensuring that people who don’t have to die don’t.”

He says things like the Mayors Task Force and HIV North’s proposed mobile consumption site are all steps in the right direction.

Other highlights included positive numbers from the Eastlink centre; including about 8,000 more people using the pool in March 2018 compared to September 2017. 94 people were housed by the city’s homeless initiatives which are taking a housing first approach. It allows people to move into stable housing then to address other issues like addition or mental health. 37 people graduated from the city’s Housing First program in the last year.

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