Council to scrutinize a lean capital budget

Red Deer city council will begin Thursday poring over a lean 2012 draft capital budget that pledges to spend some dollars in recreation, roadwork, landfill and engineering projects.

Red Deer city council will begin Thursday poring over a lean 2012 draft capital budget that pledges to spend some dollars in recreation, roadwork, landfill and engineering projects.

Mayor Morris Flewwelling and the eight councillors are expected to spend all day discussing the proposed $93-millon capital budget to see if any changes should be made.

Flewwelling said on Wednesday that he doesn’t expect council will make many tweaks to the budget, which was created with the help of public consultation.

The proposed budget has few frills, only moving up slightly from the budget that council approved in December 2010 that came in at $86,271,000.

The largest capital project for 2012 will involve realigning Taylor Drive and Ross Street to help ease traffic congestion and improve pedestrian and cycling access, and provide a new entranceway into Riverlands. Council will consider just over $14 million for this multi-year project, including $551,000 for 2012, $6,615,000 in 2013 and $7,033,000 in 2014.

The only projects council will approve are those planned for 2012, multi-year projects beginning in 2012 such as the Taylor Drive project, and projects in need of additional funding.

“Council has already had a preview look at (the budget) and I think we’re ready to debate it,” said Flewwelling. “When we embark on something, we look at the greatest good for the greatest number.”

One project destined for many is Red Deer’s first spray park. Cost is $1,161,000 in 2012.

“We have communities surrounding us with excellent spray parks, but we only have one palm (a water feature) which has a few arches over it,” said Red Deer city manager Craig Curtis.

Councillor Paul Harris said he heard from families that this was an essential and he encouraged that one get underway in 2011, but it was shot down during capital budget talks a year ago. Once a site is determined and then construction is finished in 2013, the spray park will be a no-cost venture for families.

“This is a huge triumph,” said Harris.

The budget proposes to spend $49,000 on designing a new skateboard park in town, at a location not yet decided. It would then be built in 2013, the year of the City of Red Deer’s centennial, with a draft budget of $1,378,000.

As well, the city proposes to invest $5 million into expansion and renovation of the Red Deer Curling Rink — on top of the $1.175 million previously approved.

Council will also take into account on Thursday the 2012-2021 capital plan, which is estimated to run at $1.275 billion.

Politicians will be tasked to ensure capital financing is available in the future, and that the operating budget is not unreasonably affected. Some of the key projects over the next decade include water and wastewater treatment plant upgrades — at $89.9 million and $149.9 million respectively.

Curtis told news media at City Hall on Wednesday that the global recession continues to dog municipal finances, both directly and indirectly. As in the previous two years, the city is experiencing lower revenues due to slower growth in new development, lower revenues from investments and land sales, and construction reserves have lost value. And fewer provincial and federal dollars are trickling down to municipalities.

“The population growth has also slowed down and that’s a factor,” Curtis said. “But it’s increasingly difficult for municipalities across Canada and all of them are making similar arguments — that a very small proportion of overall taxes come to municipalities who deliver a very large proportion of the total services.”

Curtis said he was glad the federal government renewed its commitment to the gas tax, but he’s waiting to see what new Alberta Premier Alison Redford will do to help municipalities financially.

Harris, elected on the board of directors for Federation of Canadian Municipalities, said it would be great if the federal government would set up more endowed funds to help with other community development.

“Really, the federal government is spending its money on the strangest things right now,” said Harris, referring to Ottawa investing dollars in more Canadian prisons. “So we’ll see how it goes.”

Other capital highlights:

• Riverlands Area Redevelopment — no funds have been requested for 2012, but $27.1 million has been previously approved for redeveloping this area west of Taylor Drive. The city estimates $5.9 million for 2013, which would be used to prepare city-owned properties for future development with infrastructure enhancements and address development constraints, such as the transmission line located in the area.

• Building another cell at the Red Deer landfill to the tune of $4.458 million, in 2012.

• Completing the three remaining blocks in the Gaetz Avenue Revitalization project for a cost of $4.74 million. They are located between 51st Street and 52nd Street and 46th Street to 48th Street.

• Engineering projects — including new development road projects ($263,000 estimates) and road capacity improvements ($5.8 million estimates).

• The City of Red Deer is hosting public open houses on the spray park and a possible additional skateboard park on Saturday from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Collicutt Centre at 3031 30th Ave. and at the G.H. Dawe Community Centre at 56 Holt St. from 1 to 3 p.m.

— copyright Red Deer Advocate