Tight budget a reflection of tough times

A lean capital budget focusing more on infrastructure essentials and less on glitzy projects was unanimously approved on Monday.

A lean capital budget focusing more on infrastructure essentials and less on glitzy projects was unanimously approved on Monday.

After nearly seven hours of discussion, city council supported a budget that will include $200,000 being spent on plans for Red Deer’s first 50-metre swimming complex.

Civic leaders were presented with a proposed budget of $108 million and after administrative number-crunching, the final amount was reduced to $106.9 million.

The tally is a far cry from last year’s capital budget of nearly $473 million.

Council spent some time discussing multi-million-dollar projects, including $7.9 million budgeted for new fleet vehicles, but elected not to scrap any items.

Mayor Morris Flewwelling said council carefully considered the already-trim budget before leaving it alone.

Councillor Lorna Watkinson-Zimmer said council had tasked city manager Craig Curtis and senior administrative staff to seek a tight budget.

“It’s lean — and the sky is not falling,” she said. “We’ll get through this.”

And without adding to the bottom line, council approved two more projects concerning the pool along with airport de-icing.

Councillor Gail Parks made the surprising request of $200,000 for the Central Alberta Aquatic Centre project. The funding source has yet to be determined, but city management was considering reserves.

She said it was important to show some support to the Central Alberta Aquatic Society, which has been “working so hard” towards this project.

Last week, the group learned the city was forced to be more conservative with its 10-year capital plan because of the global economy. The swimming complex was one of 27 projects that would be pushed beyond 2020.

A total of 66 projects are being deferred over the next 10 years.

Flewwelling said Curtis’ recommendation to stall the pool project was deemed a “little harsh” by council.

Several members of the aquatics society attended Monday’s budget meeting, including chairman Jack Cuthbertson. He was encouraged with council’s decision.

“It gives us a degree of legitimacy that we were hoping for,” said Cuthbertson. “We can go ahead and keep our team going, and promote the actions that we wanted to do. Hopefully, we’ll get the whole thing completed before 2020.”

Cuthbertson said the group wants to raise money in the community, but will also rely on government dollars as well to fund the project. The cost has yet to be determined.

Flewwelling said the process of how that $200,000 will be used will come back to council.

The pool project is being considered as part of a master plan that is being developed for Rotary Recreation Park. It includes the area near the recently renovated Recreation Centre, which has a smaller pool.

Council also approved a last-minute item of $150,000 that came from the Red Deer Regional Airport Authority for de-icing upgrades. A federal grant was conditionally approved, but is contingent on receiving one-third funding from the city and Red Deer County. The county has yet to approve.

Watkinson-Zimmer voted against the request because she wanted more information from airport officials on why these upgrades totalling $500,000 are necessary.

Councillor Tara Veer suggested the city give $110,000 and then get the airport authority to use its annual $40,000 grant from the city towards this project. Her motion was voted down.

The capital budget also sets aside $54.6 million towards the north highway connector, a major road that will span from the Gaetz Avenue/Hwy 11A intersection to 30th Avenue. The money will fund utility servicing and right-of-ways.

Councillor Lynne Mulder said this amount for 2010 is actually reduced from $133 million, which had been previously approved in 2009.

Also approved was $1 million for a new curling rink on Michener Services land located south of 67th Street and west of 30th Avenue. Earlier this year, council approved giving $1 million, but that money wasn’t used because the curling project didn’t receive matching grants from other government levels.

Recreation, Parks and Culture manager Greg Scott said this new money would still contribute to the curling project, which is being worked on by a community group.

Some discussion centred on replacing city fleet vehicles to the tune of $6.68 million. Another $1.237 million of new vehicles due to growth would also be spent.

“Are we growing enough to justify this?” asked councillor Tara Veer.

Development Services director Paul Goranson said departments are asked to give growth projections over many years and then when the time comes, these new vehicle requests are scrutinized.

Curtis said some public works and parks vehicles are needed to serve recently-annexed areas.

Administration will come back with reports on the rationale for these vehicles.

The operational budget will be considered in January.

Flewwelling said a tax rate won’t be known until then. The capital budget is funded typically through reserves, grants and other funding sources and not through property taxes, he added.

ltester@bprda.wpengine.com

A number of other decisions were made on the capital budget:

• A decision was made to delay the civic centre expansion project and as a result, previously approved amount of $158.5 million in 2009 was significantly reduced to $3.37 million

• A decision was made to change construction plans for the large-scale North Highway Connector project, so that the large road on the northeast side will see a cut in previously allocated funding. The 2009 capital budget had set aside $133.8 million and now it’s been reduced to $27.3 million.

• First readings given for borrowing bylaws concerning the first phase of the North Highway Connector project, sanitary offsite levy fund, storm offsite levy fund, water offsite levy fund, roads offsite levy fund and civic yards relocation project. Public hearing and other final readings to be given at a later date.

• $200,000 to be spent on downtown street furniture and banners, money which will come from reserves

• $51,000 towards replacing cardiac monitors used by Red Deer Emergency Services. The money could be recouped through Alberta Health Services.

• $75,000 towards City of Red Deer website upgrades. The money, which will come from capital reserves, will make the website more interactive and include opportunities for online social networking sites such as Twitter.

• $1.3 million for the construction of the Cenotaph Plaza on Ross Street

• $3.2 million for a water main replacement program

• Implementation of Waskasoo Park Special Gathering Places plan for $495,000 and will include some work at Heritage Ranch

• Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary viewing deck and stair replacement will be done for a budget of $150,000

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