By Tim Kalinowski on May 15, 2021.
The Economic Standing Policy Committee of city council adjourned on Friday after five days of deliberations leaving $31 million unallocated for the next elected council to make use of after this fall’s municipal election.
While most initiatives funded in this upcoming 2022-2031 Capital Improvement Program cycle were modest and relatively inexpensive to fund, there were a few which stood out as having a larger impact on the city in the years to come.
The recommendation that city council fund from the CIP a green bin program was approved by Economic SPC over the next fours years for about $3.5 million per year ($14 million in total) to cover operating costs, but it will also trigger a $10.6 million investment in a new organics sorting facility through City borrowing, and eventually a $7 per month additional utility charge by 2023 for every residential dwelling in the city.
It was also the closest vote of the week by a 5-4 margin, with Councillors Jeffrey Coffman, Joe Mauro, Blaine Hyggen and Ryan Parker opposed.
Another major initiative recommended for CIP funding 2022-2031 was the decision to change over the City’s fleet of buses to electric over the next 10 years. Economic SPC only recommended $8.8 million in funding over the next four years with the hope the federal government will come up with grants to cover the full projected cost of $19.4 million in that time frame. The conversion to electric overall will cost the City a projected $37 million over the next 10 years. Despite some concerns expressed by City Treasurer Hailey Pinksen that the uncertainty around federal funding could leave the City short and stuck with the rest of the bill to pick up, a majority of SPC members chose to gamble on the feds and only approve $8.8 million at this time. Only Coun. Blaine Hyggen was opposed to the expenditure, and the measure passed by a vote of 7-1.
For those who enjoy sports in the city, the Economic SPC recommended a series of capital expenditures on recreation, sports fields and gym facilities. SPC approved $850,000 for a gym expansion at the new westside elementary school when it gets built, $500,000 to help expand the Ecole La Verendrye gymnasium, $900,000 to build a new basic outdoor twin court for roller derby, lacrosse and roller hockey players in the community, $650,000 for expanded pickleball courts at Legacy Park, $530,000 for Fritz Sick Pool upgrades, and $5.87 million for upgrading the Henderson Ice Centre.
There was also funding recommended for arts and culture in the community with a $5.78 million investment in an expansion of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery over the next three years, about $375,000 to keep the dream of a downtown performing arts centre alive, and a $375,000 investment in a local Indigenous Place-making Strategy as well as $350,000 in seed money for a future Indigenous Cultural Centre.
The Economic SPC also entertained a late “over the wall” motion from Coun. Jeffrey Coffman on Friday to approve $660,000 for Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden pathway replacement for 2023. The original ask had been for CIP funding by 2026, but Coffman felt with the new Bunka centre coming into operation in 2021 the garden’s cracking pathways should be addressed sooner rather than later.
Economic SPC supported the motion 7-1, with Coun. Blaine Hyggen opposed. Hyggen felt the pathways could wait until the original 2026 proposed date.
Some major expenditures were kicked up the road four years for the next city council to decide. These included a proposed $75 million capital expense for a downtown performing arts centre, a $28 million build for a new Fire Station No. 3 on 16 Avenue South, and the proposed construction of a $38.6 million replacement arena for the Civic Ice Centre.
On the final day of deliberations Coun. Coffman also brought forward another proposal to spend $1.1 million on “high priority” accessibility upgrades at City facilities over the next four years instead of piecemealing out the work $100,000 per year over the next 10 years. He also proposed another $1.1 million be spent between 2026 and 2031 to finish the work on “medium” and “low” priority upgrades. This measure carried unanimously.
Mayor Chris Spearman, who chaired the at times contentious Economic SPC discussions which had Coun. Joe Mauro choosing to walk out on Wednesday, said all SPC members were aware of the current budget constraints facing the city and of potential unforeseen future needs which might arise in the next four years.
“I think it was a balance between trying to do things that were deemed essential, and also investing in projects that generate some employment and improvement in the city,” said Spearman. “And also being cautious not to spend all the money that was available to us this late in the term. To hand money over to the new council when they are elected in October.
“We started with about $80 million,” he explained further, “and, in the end, we had over $31 million we did not allocate. We had passed a motion to originally put aside $10 million for matching grants, and we didn’t allocate another $21 million, including the additional $6 million in federal gas tax (funding). So there will be $31 million available to the new council this council hasn’t allocated.”
Spearman said despite some of the politics on display earlier in the week every contributing member of the SPC did their best to invest the City’s capital money as wisely as possible.
“We saw a lot of modest investments in a wide range of projects,” he stated, “and given the limited dollars we had there were no blockbuster projects we could afford to fund. So we were basically making modest improvements through the city.
“I hope councillors can be proud of the work we have done this week. We tried as hard as we could to work as a team. The process wasn’t perfect, and there was a little bit of politics, but every councillor should do their best to contribute to the process, and contribute positive ideas. And I think, in the end, we got there.”
This was Spearman’s last Capital Improvement Program deliberation of his elected career as he gets set to hand over the Mayor’s gavel to a new incumbent this fall. Reflecting on the last five days, he said he was probably most proud of how SPC members came together to pass Coun. Jeffrey Coffman’s last two motions on Friday to prioritize funding for Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens pathways replacement and to create a better city which is more accessible to all. It summed up, in his mind, what the role of an elected representative of city council should aspire to do in greater service to the community.
“They weren’t necessarily very expensive resolutions, but I think those were ones that will move our city forward,” said Spearman. “Overall, I think it is important to make our city a better place through investments in parks, and other things that are happening to make the city a better place to live. I think those are all things we can all be proud of.”
All funding recommendations of the Economic Standing Policy Committee will be forwarded on to Tuesday’s city council meeting for final vote and approval. At that time, councillors can choose to revisit any and all capital funding decisions made during this week’s Economic SPC meeting, or seek funding for new measures not currently addressed in the 2022-2031 CIP cycle.
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