Heritage Ranch, Lions Campground improvements on the debate table

Capital budget discussions put administrators in the hot seat

”Is it possible to defer this?“

That question was repeatedly asked as Red Deer council members scrutinized the proposed capital budget to try to find more savings on Thursday.

Repairing Heritage Ranch infrastructure, including the visitor centre‘s lookout tower, and preserving deteriorating Lions Campground amenities were among the items some councillors asked to postpone on Thursday morning.

Coun. Lawrence Lee said he would not support the Heritage Ranch tower repair. Since the unsafe tower was closed to the public for a year already, he suggested it could continue to be off-limits until the economy picks up and there is more money available for these repairs.

City manager Craig Curtis spoke up: “I don’t want to come across as defensive, but I’m probably sounding defensive.” Curtis explained that city administration has gone through a much longer list of capital items to pare it down to only the most necessary ones.

The Heritage Ranch tower can’t be completely closed off to the public unless it was boarded up, said Curtis, who added it was a public safety priority that these repairs go ahead. He also noted the tower is only part of a larger range of park upgrades needed.

Mayor Tara Veer, Lee and other councillors later expressed support for administration. Veer noted this is not a growth budget, “it’s really responding to the lag factor of the recession.” While council is grappling to find whatever savings are possible, Veer said “the staff has brought saving to the budget already.”

The $403,000 item was approved, as was the $50,000 for Lions Campground repairs. Curtis said the campground is a visitors’ window on the city and it‘s important to make a reasonable impression.

One of the items that was deferred to the 2019 capital budget was a $1-million request to create more office and a meeting place for larger groups at Heritage Ranch. Council recognized the availability of vacant office space in other parts of the city and decided this could wait a year.

Highlights of approved items:

— $6.1 million for replacement of fleet vehicles and equipment, including three Action Buses, six cars or SUVs, 33 trucks and 28 construction, maintenance and specialized machines. Council heard fleet vehicles are now being maintained for 10 years, instead of eight. Kelly Kloss, director of development services, said the life-spans are being extended as a cost-saving, but it’s a balancing act, since there‘s a point when maintenance expenses outweigh investment in a new vehicle. Coun. Dianne Wyntjes said it’s important for the city to have well-maintained vehicles for practical purposes, but also because seeing them towed doesn’t present a great public image. About $250,000 was also approved for vehicle purchases needed to keep up with city growth.

— $230,000 for tree replacement. Coun. Michael Dawe said he greatly supports this investment, since so many trees were lost during this year’s wind storms and it takes 20 years for trees to mature. Sarah Cockerill, director of community services, said more than 3,000 Red Deer trees were destroyed in the storms, and city workers haven’t yet assessed damage in the deeply forested parts of Maskepetoon Park and Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary. This money will allow the city to replace 380 trees, on top of the 150 that are in annual need of replacement. “There‘s still a long way to go,” said Cockerill, who will ask for more funds again in the 2019 capital budget.

— $394,000 for preservation of River Bend Recreation Area and golf course tree replacement.

— $410,000 to make 2019 Canada Winter Games sites more accessible and ecological (Servus Arena, Collicutt Centre, Kinsmen Community Arena and Great Chief Park).

— $1,600 for new outdoor washrooms at Bower Ponds to serve users when the pavilion, with its indoor washrooms, is not open.

— $15,000 for planning the development of a local pickleball court.

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