Most Red Deer city councillors refused to skimp on street improvements to one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods to help finance a 50-metre pool.
They also objected, during 2019 capital budget deliberations, to pay $200,000 for a new fence, proposed to help improve safety and reduce vandalism on the south side of Red Deer’s pedestrian bridge.
While Coun. Ken Johnston had argued that, with the recent focus on used needles and debris being left around the bridge and vandalism to nearly buildings, the fence is badly needed, Coun. Michael Dawe was among those who disagreed, and objected to the cost.
Dawe had also disagreed with a previous motion to deny Riverside Meadows some aesthetic improvements. He said residents of north Red Deer had to pay extra on their taxes to help bring their infrastructure up to city standards when their neighbourhood joined Red Deer in 1948.
“I would hate to say, ‘Now that you’re up for regular (street) improvements, we can’t,’” added Dawe.
Coun. Vesna Higham sought to save $630,000 by separating the “wants” from the needs to the Riverside Meadows upgrades. While replacing pipes and other infrastructure cannot be avoided, she suggested the area could go without some benches, upgraded lighting and signage, trees, public art, bike racks, bulked sidewalks and trails until the economy improves. And Coun. Tanya Handley supported this motion.
Council received a “huge” pile of letter from people who want the 50-metre pool project to go ahead in 2019, instead of in four years time, Higham noted. To make it happen, council has to achieve some savings, she stressed.
But the majority of council felt it important to bring an older neighbourhood up to the same standards as enjoyed by residents of newer parts of the city.
Councillors Johnston and Dianne Wyntjes were among those who agreed with administration that it would be far less costly and more prudent to undertake these improvements in tandem with other infrastructure projects in Riverside Meadows than at a later date.
Regarding the former CP Rail bridge, now used by pedestrians, council was asked to fund $200,000 for a 104-metre chain link fence along its southern end. The fence would protect The Edge residential/commercial complex, which has had windows smashed by vandals. The barrier would channel people using the bridge to 55th Street, council was told.
Coun. Buck Buchanan felt a fence could improve safety and reduce crime. But Coun. Dawe and Lawrence Lee didn’t think an expensive fence would solve these issues.
Lee said homeless people loiter under the bridge because Red Deer has no 24-hour warming shelter for them. Put up a fence and these people will just go cause difficulties someplace else, he said.
The fence “won’t look good and it is not going to fulfill its intended purpose,” concluded Lee. The majority of council agreed.
An attempt to save money on reducing crown paving projects did not get council’s approval after Mayor Tara Veer strongly stated this would go against the city’s preventative maintenance strategy and be a short-term savings that causes “long-term pain.”
City administration had already sliced $19 million from the paving budget before presenting the 2019 capital budget to council. To reduce it further than $6.2 million could create problems, she noted, and good roads are high on the list for Red Deerians.
The debate will continue on Tuesday. Nov. 20.