By Tim Kalinowski on May 14, 2021.
The Economic Standing Policy Committee of city council Capital Improvement Project deliberations for the 2022-2032 cycle continued on Day Four Thursday with several significant initiatives recommended for approval.
A majority of SPC members chose to go electric by recommending the funding of the replacement of the current diesel City bus fleet with electric buses over the next 10 years. The total cost of the replacement program would be $19.4 million between 2022-2025, with a total cost of $37 million needed over the next ten years. This cost would include the buses themselves and all charging infrastructure needed to keep them running.
SPC members were reassured by City transit staff that the federal government will likely be approving significant grants to municipalities to help encourage the electric bus change in order to help meet Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions commitments.
After some initial confusion on the numbers needed for the next four years, SPC members were asked to approve $8.8 million of the $19.4 million cost in anticipation the federal government may pony up the rest. SPC members did vote 7-1 to spend this $8.8 million, despite acknowledging the uncertainty surrounding potential federal contributions.
Lingering concerns seemed to be the theme of the day as SPC members also reluctantly approved $850,000 in funding for a gymnasium expansion for the new elementary school being constructed on the westside and another $850,000 from other reserves outside of the CIP on preparing the school’s surrounding grounds and sports fields for use as per the City’s 1954 joint-use agreements with local school boards.
Coun. Rob Miyashiro was joined by Coun. Blaine Hyggen and Coun. Ryan Parker in expressing his concerns that it seemed to date public access promised by local school boards to their gymnasiums and sports fields was not living up to expectations in the joint-use agreements in all instances. Miyashiro felt this was a problem which must be addressed in the future with a re-examination of the joint-use agreement by the next council, but chose to vote to approve the funding measures anyway. The final vote on the gymnasium funding was 6-2 in favour, and unanimous on the outside site preparation.
Lingering concerns were once again put aside later in the day as the Economic Standing Policy Committee recommended approving $900,000 in funding for a new Civic Common Comprehensive Site Plan to determine the best use of publicly owned lands around city hall in the future.
Coun. Jeffrey Carlson proposed an amendment that the planning would include potential site locations for a future home of a new performing arts centre in these lands. Unsure if a future council would feel the same way about the site placement, some on Economic SPC wondered if including the performing arts centre in the Civic Common Comprehensive Site Plan would not be a wasted exercise?
City staff confirmed there could be some wastage if a future council chose differently, but felt there was room in the planning process to look at options to include the performing arts centre even if there is not a substantial commitment in place to any one location at the moment.
The motion carried 6-2.
Coun. Blaine Hyggen later raised similar concerns about investing $250,000 into the planning for an Indigenous Cultural Centre Site in 2022 when construction of such a facility was not currently part of the 2022-2031 CIP cycle. He also wondered if the current Multicultural Centre might not be an existing facility which could include the Indigenous community in its membership instead of constructing a new facility?
City of Lethbridge Indigenous relations co-ordinator Perry Stein said getting the planning in place was important because there were significant federal, and possibly future provincial, grants which could be leveraged to pay a large portion of the construction costs– taking those off the City’s plate.
He also said to simply lump Indigenous people in as just another part of the larger multicultural community of Lethbridge was not in keeping with the spirit of reconciliation. Local Indigenous people would want a place which reflects their unique First Nations history and culture in the region, and a place to share that culture and history with the broader community to further reconciliation efforts.
SPC members voted 7-1 in favour of approving the $250,000 for the planning study.
All funding recommendations of the Economic Standing Policy Committee will be forwarded on to the May 18 city council meeting for final vote and approval on that day.
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