Red Deer’s proposed 2021 capital budget has nearly doubled, in these lean times, because the city wants to take advantage of federal and provincial infrastructure grants.
City Manager Allan Seabrooke told council on Monday at the outset of city budget discussions, that about $219.2 million of projects are proposed for next year. This compares to the more usual $125 million for annual infrastructure projects.
The capital funding increase is due to city administrators wanting to tap into federal and provincial governments grant programs, which are being made available to municipalities to spur the economy during the pandemic, said Seabrooke.
Most government-funded projects that require a matching grant from the municipality have Dec. 31, 2021 deadlines for completion, so must go ahead next year, said Seabrooke. The few projects that the city is funding alone, without money from the province or Ottawa, can be pushed ahead into 2022 — which has an anticipated capital budget of $97.5 million.
The city’s proposed 2021 infrastructure budget contains $15 million from the province for the G.H. Dawe Centre expansion (including the additional of another ice rink to replace the aging and soon-to close Kinex Arena), as well as $38 million in government funding for other building projects and $12 million in grants for roads improvement programs.
The $35.5 G.H. Dawe Centre upgrade and expansion project is the one with the most public appeal. Besides the twinned ice rink, other improvements would add a new spray park and remove access barriers in the change rooms so they can be used by sledge hockey athletes with disabilities.
Other proposed projects in the capital budget are nearly $27 million for road maintenance, construction of a $4.4 million fires training facility, $4.6 million for flood berms in the civic yards, a $2.9 million Collicutt Centre preservation project, and $6.3 million for work on parts of the Northlands Drive project (a CP Rail overpass on Hwy 11A).
Also included are proposals for a $10 million for park land acquisition, $4.6 million for the Culture Services centre renovation, $5.7 million for upgrading the 9-1-1 communications centre, $8 million for replacing stormwater infrastructure and $2.8 million for fleet vehicle replacements.
Seabrooke said the city owns billions of dollars in capital assets and must ensure this is maintained.
Council heard from chief financial officer Dean Krejci that the city’s proposed 2021 operating budget would total $379.5 million, and $384.9 is proposed for operating funds in 2022.
Krejci reported that the city’s finances are generally in good shape, with some limited room for more borrowing.
He added that that residential taxes billed to city residents fall within the mid-range — being higher than those in Calgary, Edmonton and Medicine Hat but lower than those charged by Lethbridge and Grande Prairie.
City council, which is aiming for zero per cent tax increases in 2021 and 2022, will continue budget discussions to Dec. 4.