By Tim Kalinowski on May 11, 2021.
The Economic Standing Policy Committee of city council held its first day of deliberations Monday as committee members seek to set the City’s capital priorities for the 2022-2031 CIP cycle over the next five days.
During the morning session, committee members considered several final submissions before entering into discussion and debate on specific CIP asks. A few submissions drew extra debate from committee members, including a proposal to spend $1.7 million on a new sports field and another $850,000 on an expanded gymnasium for a new westside elementary school announced by the province earlier this year which should open by 2025.
Under the City’s 1959 joint-use agreement with local school boards this type of investment has become fairly standard whenever a new school is built. However, committee members questioned staff on Monday as to whether or not these past capital projects have had a good return on investment for the community as a whole, which is supposed to be allowed access to these facilities when school is not in session on evenings and weekends.
Under questioning from SPC members, City staff admitted they had heard public complaints about not being able to book these facilities, which were listed as booked for school events, only to drive by to find the schools dark with the gymnasiums not in use.
Committee members asked staff for statistics showing how often school gymnasiums and sports fields have been open to be booked by the outside public and how often they have actually been used by the public. They asked staff return this information before members would debate whether or not to make these capital investments in the new westside school for the 2022-2031 CIP cycle when those matters come up for discussion later this week.
Another submission to the Economic SPC on Monday which garnered increased discussion and debate was a proposal to fund the relocation of Fire Station No. 3 to 16th Avenue South in the next CIP cycle.
While no decisions were made during Monday’s meeting, committee members asked Lethbridge Fire Chief Marc Rathwell why the two options on the table were a $27.238 million fire station replacement and a $16.2 million station replacement when the new Fire Station No. 5 build only cost about $9 million?
Rathwell said the difference is size and need. The new Station No. 3 would have to hold six bays to serve all southside needs, which would include a fully functional Fire, EMS and Emergency Rescue as well as an Airport emergency response apparatus with necessary staffing. Fire Station No. 5, by contrast, only has three bays, and offers a more basic EMS/ Fire and Rescue service to the westside in conjunction with Fire Station No. 2. Additionally, the new $27 million version of Station No. 3 would also include a much needed administration space, an emergency management space, a backup Public Safety Communications Centre and a fire prevention space, Rathwell explained.
The $16 million version would offer a more fundamental approach at the new Station No. 3, which would have six bays and cover the Fire/ EMS/ Rescue and would have the Airport emergency component. It would not have the additional admin, fire prevention, PSCC and emergency response space. The existing Station No. 3 was built in 1964, Rathwell explained, and no longer meets the needs of a modern fire service for the City of Lethbridge.
After accepting these submissions for information, (decisions on these capital proposals will not be made until later in the week), city council adjourned for lunch and opted to return at 1:05 p.m. to perhaps get a little ahead on the week by proposing an omnibus motion to cover all CIP investments in Sections C, E and F of the 2022-2031 cycle. However, almost immediately Coun. Jeffrey Coffman asked that E7, a proposal to fund a curbside organics program, be severed off from the omnibus motion for separate debate. This was accepted by a majority of committee members.
Coun. Blaine Hyggen then proposed a motion to take apart the entire omnibus motion to debate and vote on each capital project one at a time. This motion was defeated 5-4 by committee members with Coun. Jeffrey Coffman casting the deciding vote. Coffman, however, then proposed that all debate on the omnibus motion be tabled for one day in order to give Hyggen, and other councillors who needed it, more time to study the documents for each of the proposed capital projects, and pull out any specific initiative they wished to open for further debate and discussion on day two of CIP deliberations.
The Economic Standing Policy Committee is scheduled to meet daily through Friday, and will vote on what CIP projects to recommend for adoption to the next regular meeting of city council next Tuesday.
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