“It’s not such a bad thing to try to put the brakes on a little bit. We’ve been in a period of money flowing into the city, and spending, and capital projects, and on and on,” said Mayor Stuart Houston.
Editorial Note: The City of Spruce Grove held 2019-2021 corporate plan discussions over three days from Oct. 28-30. Council has not yet finalized the 2019-21 corporate plan. All discussions remain preliminary.
City of Spruce Grove councillors took a closer look at what needs to get done and what can wait with necessary cuts looming
According to recommendations by administration, the City of Spruce Grove budget will need to be reframed in 2020. Part of the suggested solution includes the deferral of several projects and full-time employee requests to 2021. Despite council already approving a 3.9 per cent increase in 2019-21 during last year’s budget deliberations, administration is recommending a tax increase of 5.9 per cent.
During the first of three meetings this past week, on Monday, Council expressed concern with a 5.9 per cent increase and suggested a comprehensive line-by-line breakdown of the capital budget could prove beneficial. They began going over above the line initiatives on day one, before breaking and re-gathering on day two to discuss which projects should be moved above the line in 2020 and which should remain below the line.
Big ticket items such as the proposed arena complex in the Westwind Development Centre, upgrades to the Spruce Grove Transit Service, the City Centre Area Redevelopment Plan were hot topics of discussion with councillors looking to trim the fat.
“It’s not such a bad thing to try to put the brakes on a little bit. We’ve been in a period of money flowing into the city, and spending, and capital projects, and on and on,” said Mayor Stuart Houston. We need to accept the financial realities of where we are today. It’s not all doom and gloom by any means but there’s still a lot of work we need to do.”
Coun. Dave Oldham asked for a closer took into the use of transit in the City, with three new busses freshly rolled out in 2019 and another two slated for 2020. In 2019 Inter-municipal Collaboration Committees were formed through the Chief Administrative Officers of Parkland County The Town of Stony Plain and the City of Spruce Grove to review the service delivery aspects of the transit system, and to explore the possibility of providing joint services.
The initiative extends to 2020, where the committees will continue developing cooperative agreements. Plans relating to servicing and operations for transit in Stony Plain are currently being developed. The initiative is slated to cost the City $10,000 in 2020. There is also $185,840 set out in 2020 for the instillation of new bus stops around the City. The project will cost another 191,735 in 2021.
“I’d like to do an assessment of the usage of our transit. Anecdotally, I think it’s off to a slow start, which is probably expected and the model will ramp up over time. However I’d be wanting to maybe re-frame how we look at transit in this regard given the situation we’re in,” said Coun. Dave Oldham.
The City is set to add two more busses to their fleet of three and Oldham questioned what the difference might be in terms of operating costs, and effect on service.
Switching gears to the arena complex is slated under the plan to cost $25,000,000 in total including $900,000 in 2020, which is far off the estimated $60 million plus included in a presentation on three options for an arena brought to council by a developer earlier this year. Coun. Jeff Acker questioned the use of what he called a placeholder number and added this is a project he wants to take a closer look at.
“We need to have these discussions, especially when looking at our long term debt, and some of the decisions we’re going to have to make. This could have a major affect on our long term sustainability. I’m not a big fan of using placeholders for this type of thing,” said Acker.
Major deferrals to the next iteration of the corporate plan included $133,000 worth of work to enhance the City’s cyber security program, another $405,000 to upgrade electronic meeting management software, $413,00 for the instillation of solar panels on the protective services building, and $140,000 for upgrades to the City’s pickle ball facilities.
The only suggestion to move an initiative above the line came from Mayor Houston when looking at the $50,000 Central Park Re-development, however Council spoke against the recommendation.
Councillors discussed each line of the corporate plan at length before circling back to the discussion on financial strategies. Many were still wary of anything more than a 3.9 per cent increase to taxes, an issue that will undoubtedly dominate the conversation at the next meeting. They will have time to work through the information they have been presented with before they reconvene on Nov. 3 to approve the 2019-21 corporate plan.