Swift Current mayoral candidate Al Bridal has a vision of a more affordable future for city residents and businesses.
The former City councillor and current school board trustee has entered the race to become the next mayor of Swift Current.
The financial management of the City and the implications of decisions about debt and taxation on Swift Current residents and businesses are key aspects of his campaign platform.
“I've sat back over the last four years and watched our council collect substantially more tax money from the taxpayers of Swift Current and spent it on streets and sidewalks that need to be spent, but spent it on a lot of other things,” he said. “I've sat with my friends and I've complained about things that I've seen spent, and I decided instead of just complaining that maybe I needed to step up to the plate.”
Bridal and his family have been Swift Current residents since 1980 and he has been a business owner for 35 years. He has been actively involved in the community in various roles. He served two terms as a City councillor from 1997 to 2003. He spent six years on the Swift Current School Board #94 in the early 1990s and he is currently in his fourth year as an elected trustee on the Chinook School Division Board of Education.
His involvement with community organizations includes 20 years with the Swift Current Soccer Association as a referee and board member, four years on the Great Plains College board, and four years on the Prairie Pioneers Independent Housing board.
He loves calling Swift Current home, but he is concerned about the community’s financial and economic future.
“I believe the next few years are going to be very, very tough, but in business I've come through a couple of tough times already,” he said.
He feels the City needs new leadership to address priorities and to focus on needs in a fiscally responsible manner.
“When I look at it, I really think City council and City administration have wants and needs mixed up,” he said. “And so, I would like to become the new mayor of Swift Current and I'd like to take a look at the amount of money that's coming in. We're collecting this much more money, why do we have more debt.”
He noted that the City has been collecting significantly more income through taxation from ratepayers, but the debt situation has not been addressed.
“In 2019, which is the last year we have audited statements for, they collected $7.3 million more than just four years previous in 2015,” he said. “So in 2015, $11 million was collected, $18.3 million in 2019. That's a lot of extra money collected from the local taxpayers. … They had that much more revenue and yet, we have another $10 million worth of debt.”
He believes it is not realistic for the City to consider projects such as the construction of an integrated leisure facility when it has a current debt of $86 million.
“Right now, each one of us, the citizens, owe $5,000 for our City debt and that's what it boils down to,” he said. “And I know that accountants and good politicians will say you shouldn't think like that. I'm old fashioned. I do. I think that debt is debt and someone has to pay it back, and it concerns me that my children or my grandchildren are going to be responsible for debt.”
He referred to various examples of City expenditure on projects that are wants, but not real needs. The City purchased and installed a digital reader board at City Hall, but did not consider the option of renting advertising space on other available electronic billboards in Swift Current.
The asphalt surface at the downtown Frank Rempel Centennial Plaza was replaced with decorative paving stones for aesthetic reasons, money was spent on a storage facility for rented golf carts at the Chinook golf course, and another project was approved to install irrigation for a cricket field at the Windscape Kite Festival grounds. The purchase of equipment that are not used on a regular basis is also an unnecessary expense, and it would make more sense to rent such equipment.
“When I look at the City, what's happened in the past we can't change,” he said. “I can complain about it and I tell you some of these things, but I can't change those things. So let's look to the future. How can we do this different in the future, because I really strongly believe the citizens of Swift Current are paying more than their fair share of municipal taxes right now and they should not be going up any more.”
For that reason, he believes it is important for the City to make a clear distinction between wants and needs when future spending decisions are made.
According to Bridal there is a need to review the procedures for business assessments in Swift Current, because there appears to be significant variations between assessments of similar sized business properties.
“I really want to have a look at how our taxes have been assessed on the commercial properties,” he said. “On the residential properties, when I talk to residential people, I think the taxes are too high, but the actual assessment is very close from this house to that house, I don't think there's much of an issue, but for our commercial assessment there's some real swings in values that don't make any real sense to me.”
He feels the goal to increase the city’s population to 25,000 people by 2025 is not realistic, because growth will only happen if there are jobs to attract new residents.
“In Swift Current we seem to have an attitude built it and they will come,” he said. “People will only come to Swift Current if there are good jobs here. … The only way you have growth is jobs. People don't just come because the city is nice. They need to come work. So this idea about making a nice pool, make a nice indoor track and people will come, but they can't come if they can't afford to use it. They need jobs and without jobs you can't have growth.”
He therefore felt there is a need to shift the focus towards making Swift Current a more affordable place to live.
“We need jobs here, and how do we get jobs,” he asked. “To be attractive for jobs, maybe have a tax rate that's an attractive tax rate. And maybe, instead of trying to attract a bunch of new businesses, maybe make the taxes more affordable for the local businesses so they can afford to hire more people. … We need to make it so that existing businesses want to stay here. Then make it attractive for new businesses to come.”