Tara Veer: New aquatics centre remains on council’s radar

Council recently deliberated on our capital budget and 10-year plan, and, suffice it to say, we are living in a new economic normal, and Alberta municipalities are settling in for the long haul.

While we remain hopeful of future provincial recovery and confident in the progress we are making in some sectors of our local economy, it is imperative the city’s budget is pragmatic, realistic and financially sustainable, given the economic climate.

In response to the municipal financial reality that has shifted substantially over the past year, a minimum of $7 million of city projects have been deferred beyond the city’s 10-year plan and this, obviously, does not include new or emerging projects, challenges and opportunities that will no doubt present themselves in the coming decade.

According to the city manager, it is safe to assume a projection of $1 billion of projects has, by necessity, been deferred given our financial reality.

As noted throughout council’s very challenging budget deliberations, and in response to the recent provincial budget, we continue to navigate not just a recessed local and provincial economy, but a prolonged recession that is presenting cities across our province with significant financial pressures as a result of diminishing municipal revenues and provincial grants.

The 2020 budget and plan are unequivocally a “need-to-have” budget, with most of the 2020 investment occurring in essential areas such as transportation, water and wastewater infrastructure, and maintaining existing assets the city is responsible for. We are, without question, in a new economic normal.

As you are no doubt aware, community and council discussion in recent budget deliberations also focused on the future aquatics centre project.

In response to the many competing challenges given our continuing and deepening fiscal reality at this time, the project has, by necessity, been deferred beyond the capital plan, as the financial landscape has shifted dramatically in the past year.

However, we remain committed to upholding the future vision for aquatics infrastructure. Council will continue discussions to determine the scope and location of the proposed aquatic centre so it is “shovel ready” if/when the economy and grant circumstances improve.

We will also work with the province to ensure the city’s continued access to the Michener pool during this process.

City administration is tasked to find a minimum of $15 million in general operational savings over the next three years, and as the operating costs of pool infrastructure are significant, this is also a financial factor that will need to be addressed in the future.

There was also community interest regarding the proposed G.H. Dawe expansion. Council approved a servicing component only, to facilitate simultaneous underground work with ATCO, to address road access and egress issues to the site, and facilitate the future second rink and spray park.

Some citizens have questioned why a second rink now and not later, but this is viewed as a replacement project for the Kinex, which will need to be demolished due to imminent structural failures in the next one to five years.

The operating costs of Kinex would transfer to the Dawe, thereby having minimal to no adverse impact on the tax rate.

Having said this, the G.H. Dawe project itself is not approved, as it is subject to federal and provincial grant dollars.

If the latter does not occur, it is fair to speculate this project also will, by financial necessity, need to be deferred, likely resulting in service impacts to the many user groups of the Kinex Arena.

Additional information regarding the capital budget and plan are available at reddeer.ca or by calling 403-342-8111.

I hope this helps to answer some of the questions you may have. As always, it is council’s privilege to serve you, and we look forward to seeing you throughout the community.

Mayor Tara Veer

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