By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on April 21, 2017.
The capital budget is a key instrument that city council has for setting out our community’s priorities for capital projects and how they will be paid for in coming years.
A fundamental philosophy in our capital budgeting is that we first ensure we take care of what we own before we think about funding things like new community facilities and other infrastructure. Examples of this are items in the current Capital Improvement Program (CIP) such as the Yates Centre Renewal that’s happening now, the preservation work on the historic Bowman building that’s nearing completion, and the Henderson Pool renewal project that was completed early last summer. This also includes funding for repaving of sections of our 565-kilometre city road network every year as well as expanding arterial roads to handle increasing traffic in areas of growth.
The current CIP was approved by the previous city council in June 2013. Members of the current city council will meet as Finance Committee May 15-19 to consider dozens of projects that are proposed for inclusion in the new 2018-2027 CIP. Since last fall, we have received presentations outlining the rationale and community benefits of a wide array of proposed capital projects to meet the growing needs of our community. These range from:
– Electric utility projects to ensure the reliability and capacity of electric service to residents and businesses;
– Transportation projects to ensure our existing road network is maintained and expands to keep pace with community growth;
– Water and sewer projects to ensure these essential services are maintained and expand with new development;
– Parks projects to maintain or enhance the esthetics and amenities of our tremendous urban green spaces;
– Long-term planning projects;
– Renewal or enhancement of existing recreation and cultural facilities;
– Major projects for new community facilities.
Typically, the list and total dollar value of all the proposed capital projects far exceeds the dollars available to fund them, and this time is no different. This is where we, as city council, have the challenging responsibility to weigh each of the proposed projects on their merits and ultimately determine which ones will receive funding in the CIP and which ones will have to wait until they can potentially be funded in a future CIP. That is the work that we will be doing when we meet next month. Inevitably, some in the community will be pleased with our decisions while others may be disappointed if a project they feel passionate about is deferred to a future CIP. Although each CIP covers a 10-year period, only projects commencing construction in the first four years (2018-2021 in the upcoming CIP) are actually approved with confirmed funding.
The proposed capital projects that we’ll be debating have been on display for the public at a couple of locations around the city the past couple of weeks. They will also be on display at City Hall from April 24 to May 3. If you’re interested but prefer to check them out online, you can visit http://www.lethbridge.ca/CIP to view the projects and offer your comments via Mindmixer, an online public engagement tool.
When we meet as Finance Committee in May, proposed projects will come up for debate and we will vote on whether or not to include those projects in the draft CIP. The potential operating costs and their future effects, if any, on the city’s operating budget are an important factor that we also consider when making these decisions. By May 19, we will vote as Finance Committee on a final CIP that will come to us again as city council for final approval at a regular meeting in June.
Once council approves a CIP, it isn’t etched in stone. Council still has the discretion to amend our capital budget as circumstances change or to take advantage of new funding sources that may become available. Examples of amendments we have made to the current CIP include expanding the original aquatic centre project to include the full scope of ATB Centre-Phase 2, advancing the Whoop-Up Drive twinning and MŽtis Trail construction projects by five years, and adding the downtown regional park ‘n ride transit terminal project after we received approval of more than $12 million in provincial and federal funding for the project.
In the coming week, April 22-29, Lethbridge will welcome competitors from 41 countries as we host the 2017 World Mixed Doubles and World Senior (50 and over) Curling Championships. This is the final opportunity for competing countries to clinch a berth in the Olympic mixed doubles curling competition, which will debut as an Olympic sport at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
This a tremendous event for Lethbridge and a wonderful opportunity to showcase the excellent new ice facilities we have at ATB Centre. The Phase 1 ice facilities have been open less than a year, and they’ve already allowed Lethbridge to host provincial and now international sporting events.
The reviews on these facilities so far have been excellent. The 10-sheet curling rink offers unobstructed sightlines and comfortable surroundings, providing an excellent experience for competitors and spectators, alike. I hope you will join me taking advantage of this opportunity to take in some world-class curling!
I want to thank the organizing committee and the many volunteers involved in hosting this great event. It’s only because of them that it’s possible to host top-notch events like this right here in our hometown.
Of course, hosting curling events of this magnitude is nothing new for our community. We previously hosted the 2012 Ford World Women’s Curling Championships as well as the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in 1987 and 2007.
Lastly, I want to congratulate the Lethbridge Hurricanes on a successful regular season and what has so far been an amazing playoff run. It has been great to see the Enmax Centre packed for every home game in support of our team. The Hurricanes have demonstrated tremendous resilience and determination in the face of adversity, and they’ve inspired our community. I wish them the very best through the rest of the playoffs.
Chris Spearman is the mayor of Lethbridge. His column appears monthly.
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