Photo supplied by Neil Kortash
Neil Kortash is a City Councillor for St. Albert.
Neil Korotash is in the middle of his second term as a City Councillor for St. Albert. Not bad for a guy in his mid twenties. He was still a student in University when he decided that he wanted to make a difference at the political level and was elected by his hometown residents at a time in his life when most of us were focussed on, shall we say, more frivolous matters.
You lead a double life these days - a teacher by day and a councillor in the evenings. What made you decide to make the jump into civic politics?
I jumped into city politics before I was a teacher, that was when I was still in university when I was twenty-one. I guess it was a combination of a number of different things. I think the bottom line was I was unhappy with some of the decisions that were being made by the Council of the day. And it wasnt even necessarily that I was unhappy but just that I looked at it and thought I can probably make a difference and I would like to give it a shot.
A couple of things specifically motivated me. I was on the board of the St. Albert Youth Community Centre at the time and we receive funding from the city so I had gone to a couple of City Council meetings just to see what would happen with our funding. I just sat through a meeting, observed some of the things that they were doing and it interested me. And there were a few things going on with the river and the state of the river and some of the environmental aspects that I wasnt too happy with so I just thought, Im going to run and try and address some of these things. Probably the same way that most people start out.
What is the most urgent issue facing St. Albert City Council this term?
The most urgent issue right now, I think, is annexation without doubt. While there have been a number of big ones annexation is by far the most important outstanding issue on the table that needs to be resolved. At this stage it is sort of out of councils hands because we are waiting for the Municipal Government Board to make recommendation to the provincial government but we need to get that resolved sooner rather than later.
How much time do you spend on council matters and what is the most time consuming for you?
It varies throughout the year. Anywhere between twenty-five and thirty hours a week, roughly.
That must be hard to juggle with a full time job.
It is a lot of work. I come to work at seven in the morning and school finishes at ten after three. And then I will stick around and do some planning and marking for a couple of hours, go straight to a Council meeting for six thirty and be there until ten or eleven oclock at night and then go home and do it all over the next day.
Can you tell me where the leisure centre is at in terms of budget and schedule?
It is on budget and it is on schedule. It will be open by the end of this summer. It is a huge project for the city. A $42 million project and it will add the recreation facilities that we need and we are quite proud of it. It wasnt a popular decision with some of the people in the city but the majority of the people approved it. And like I said, on time and on budget and we are under the guaranteed maximum budget that we provided the residents before the plebiscite.
What are the advantages that you feel St. Albert is able to offer its citizens as a result of having status as a municipality?
I guess we provide a greater degree of local control over different aspects of services. Whether that be transit or R.C.M.P. or just even Parks and snow removal it gives us greater control to respond to the specific concerns and needs of our residents rather than need to respond to the concerns of a much broader population.
The people I know who live in St. Albert love it. The only thing I ever hear them gripe about are the property taxes. How do they compare with the other municipalities in the Greater Edmonton Region?
I like to look at the whole picture. People always talk about property taxes because when you buy a house the bank asks you about them and you have to write that cheque every year. So that is what they see. And there is no question that St. Alberts property taxes are higher than just about every other municipality in the region, if not the province. So you are right, people like to gripe about the property taxes in St. Albert.
But St. Albert has lower prices for utilities because we dont charge a lot of the franchise fees and taxes on utilities to subsidise our operating budget. So a lot of people dont realise that our utilities are cheaper. Theres things like the fact that we dont have local improvement levies in St. Albert. In Edmonton if you want your sidewalks fixed or your street fixed a lot of the time they will tack on a local improvement levy or tax and we dont have those. So at the end of the day when you look at the whole bundle and how much it actually costs you when you combine utilities and all of the taxes and user fees its pretty similar in St. Albert. And I think that for that parity, even though it is not necessarily on the property taxes, that residents get a pretty good bang for their buck.
Something tells me that this is a young man to watch on the political scene in this city.