April 23rd, 2024

Economic Standing Policy Committee finishes day three of deliberations

By Tim Kalinowski on May 13, 2021.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDtkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

The Economic Standing Policy Committee forged ahead with some heavy lifting on some proposed community capital projects during its third day of deliberations.
Despite the early exit of Coun. Joe Mauro, remaining committee members recommended that funding be approved for Fire Station No. 3 relocation to 16 Avenue South by a unanimous vote after Coun. Jeffrey Coffman proposed instead of allocating the $28.5 million originally requested for the move in the 2022-2031 CIP cycle that $4.8 million be spent on purchasing property for the site and for completion of a functional study on the newly proposed fire hall.
The next city council would then have an opportunity to revisit the issue in the next four years to decide on a final budget for the structure, and consider if $28.5 million was the right number or not.
Mayor Chris Spearman felt this decision was a good compromise, and would allow the future council to look at the Fire Station No. 3 relocation proposal again to see if any cost savings could be realized going forward.
“This was a big change over what was requested four years ago,” Spearman said. “You had $10 million four years ago, and the $10 million Fire Station No. 5 has now cost to complete on the westside. So going from $10 million to $28.5 million seems like a big leap. This would be a six-bay fire hall. I think our largest fire hall right now is the three-bay downtown, and the new westside fire hall is also three bays. So as we are starting to deal with the enormity of the request on this occasion, having a functional plan done for what the needs are is probably a prudent step to go forward.”
Economic SPC members also recommended that city council approve $500,000 for the Ecole La Verendrye gymnasium expansion by a vote of 7-1.
Several SPC members had expressed their hesitation to fund the gymnasium project if the school was not going to allow more access for members of the public to book it as per the existing joint-use agreement, but were convinced in the end by the fact the school had already raised nearly $1.89 million on its own from community donations.
Ecole La Verendrye also established it was already allowing public access and booking beyond the 24 hours per week required under the current joint use agreement.
Later in the Economic SPC meeting committee members debated and ultimately recommended that the Southern Alberta Art Gallery (SAAG) should receive $5.79 million over the next four years to expand its current facility to include a new outdoor integrated space, a new onsite food and beverage catering service facility, and other modernizations of its gallery space such as new lighting, etc. The final vote was 6-2 in favour.
Economic SPC members then considered and ruled out funding a new Galt Gardens 12-court pickleball facility for $1.73 million, but accepted an amendment by Coun. Rob Miyashiro which instead proposed spending $650,000 from CIP funding to enhance the existing pickleball courts at Legacy Park. This proposal was ultimately adopted unanimously by SPC members.
The final debate of the day was what to do about funding for a proposed $111 million performing arts centre downtown. Coun. Jeffrey Carlson sought to simplify the proposal, and tone down some of the controversy and debate, by only asking that Economic SPC members approve $229,000 in CIP funding for 2022 which would be used by the performing arts steering committee to continue its planning and preparations, and that $146,000 not spent by the steering committee in this CIP cycle be carried over into the 2022 CIP for the same purpose.
Carlson stressed the steering committee would not be seeking any further funding over the next four years and would continue to seek grants at other levels of government for construction.
However, Coun. Jeffrey Coffman felt this did not make the City’s commitment clear enough, and instead proposed an amendment that council adopt a cap on all potential future spending to build a performing arts centre at $75 million. This is similar to hard municipal spending caps imposed on both the ATB Centre and the Exhibition conference centre EXolution Project. If provincial or federal funding suddenly comes available for a performing arts centre, the city council of the day would still have to revisit and affirm this commitment. But, said Coffman, the cap at least established a baseline for future discussions on the issue.
Coffman’s amendment passed by a vote of 6-2.
The Economic SPC then voted to recommend approval of $375,000 for performing arts centre capital funding in 2022 by a vote of 7-1.
All recommendations by the Economic Standing Policy Committee made this week for the 2022-2031 CIP cycle will be forwarded on to the May 18 regular city council meeting for final vote and approval.

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