By Lethbridge Herald on February 24, 2020.
In a sometimes confusing debate and discussion process, city council eventually voted Monday to discontinue capital funding for a proposed Southern Alberta Art Gallery expansion and to defer decision on three other previously approved Capital Improvement Program projects to future council meetings.
Council was originally slated to vote during Monday’s public meeting on whether or not to discontinue CIP funding in the 2018-27 budget cycle for the previously approved SAAG expansion, a new multi-purpose facility at Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden, the downtown performing arts centre and connecting trails for biking and walking in the river valley under the Pathway System Connections and Extensions Program.
Mayor Chris Spearman instead proposed debating all four motions Monday but postponing the actual vote until the next council meeting in two weeks to allow the public to consider matters and provide more feedback to councillors. However, most on council felt that would confuse the process and asked for either a vote on Monday or a complete deferral of the debate portion of the discussion until a future council meeting.
Spearman then moved to postpone debate on the first motion, the Pathways Connections and Extensions Program. Coun. Jeff Carlson noted, with agreement from Coun. Belinda Crowson, that most of the Pathways funding comes from the federal gas tax; so the funding source would not be affected by the provincial government’s impending grant cuts and would require no further municipal tax dollars to complete. The money, however, could be allocated to other projects, he conceded.
Council eventually approved the postponement, at the request of Spearman, for two weeks until the March 9 council meeting by a vote of 8-1. Coun. Mauro voted against the postponement.
Council similarly voted to defer the vote and discussion of the Nikka Yuko multi-purpose facility to give the community more time to provide feedback to council until the March 9 meeting by the same 8-1 margin.
For the downtown performing arts centre, however, instead of in two weeks, council deferred the vote on whether or not to discontinue CIP funding for the centre until the last council meeting in June to allow the City’s consultant on the project to address the question of its viability more fully before any council vote. The motion was moved by Coun. Rob Miyashiro.
And finally council voted 9-0 in favour of discontinuing CIP funding to the SAAG facility expansion. SAAG had hoped to lessen the scope of its expansion and retain its CIP funding, but this is not allowed under the CIP application process, explained Carlson. A revised project has to re-apply as a new application unless council votes otherwise. None on council voted otherwise in this instance.
After the dust settled on the CIP discussions, Suzanne Lint, executive director of the Allied Arts Council, said the cancellation of the SAAG project was a shame. She was also concerned about the other three projects whose futures were all still up in the air.
“I think these are important projects for our community, and to community members who have really put a lot of heart and soul and passion into them,” she said of all three projects still under discussion. “And it’s certainly a huge disappointment today for the Southern Alberta Art Gallery who had an approved project and budget. But it is a new project and in the current fiscal reality, and the pressures council is facing, I think they (councillors) did what they felt was best. And we (at the Allied Arts Council) will certainly be advocating for that project when the next CIP comes around.”
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