City council has been prudent in retreating on its capital spending plans.
But that doesn’t mean community supporters of such projects as a performing arts centre, a 50-metre pool and a new north-side rink should abandon their hopes.
The $108-million capital budget approved on Monday by Red Deer city council is a mere shadow of the $473-million capital budget of a year ago.
The new spending plans reflect the current economic conditions, the constricted nature of provincial grants and the tolerance of local taxpayers for increased taxes. (Although it should be noted that operating expenses, to be determined during budget talks in the new year, will play a more fundamental role in setting municipal tax rates.)
The priorities — such basics as the north connector road and waste and water services — are essential to ensure we’re ready for a resurgence in growth when it occurs.
And even as the economy shows a glimmer of that resurgency, local unemployment rates remain alarmingly high and area economic growth has been sluggish at best.
In such a climate, the city can ill-afford to bullishly push secondary projects onto the agenda.
That means 66 projects have been delayed, and some have been pushed right out of the 10-year window. Chief among them is the pool project and the arts centre.
That doesn’t mean those projects are out of reach; economic conditions can turn and projects can be revived. And on Monday, council agreed, at Gail Parks’ suggestion, to put $200,000 toward planning the Central Alberta Aquatics Centre.
Certainly some of these projects have an intrinsic value in the community: health, fitness and the arts are all critical in maintaining quality of life. If quality of life diminishes too significantly in Red Deer, people will simply pack up and leave.
Such projects are also key components in ensuring continued economic growth: industry looking to relocate or expand seeks communities with a broad range of amenities and services. If you can’t entice employees to a community, you can’t set up shop.
All of which means that some of the projects that city council has been forced to defer should be scooped up by others, both in terms of planning and — more critically — funding. The shared benefits of such projects should dictate a shared responsibility.
Public and corporate participation in major projects is common in this community, from the $2.1 million the United Way seeks to raise this year to the $12 million needed to construct the Ronald McDonald House to the millions Red Deer College has solicited — and received — for its multi-phased expansion.
The Collicutt Centre was built with significant community and corporate help.
Those kinds of concerted and organized efforts require significant planning, public support, commitment by volunteers and corporate sponsors, and time and skill donated by professionals in the community.
A concerted effort has been made by proponents of the Central Alberta Aquatics Centre to push the project. Perhaps it is time to take the next step — on their own. With $200,000 in hand from the city, build partnerships (perhaps with the college as it embarks on the next phase of its expansion, its health and wellness wing), seek corporate sponsors and drive the project forward.
Similar efforts can be made on behalf of other projects. If minor hockey needs more ice, then perhaps it is time to seek private and corporate funding to expand the G.H. Dawe Centre. If the performing arts community needs a new venue, perhaps it is time to look for benefactors.
The city’s leaders have planted some seed money for the pool project. Let’s see if that seed can grow into something concrete — and inspire other such efforts.
John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.