Growth prompts changes to budgets

Steady growth in Red Deer has spurred mid-year changes to the city’s 2014 budgets.

Steady growth in Red Deer has spurred mid-year changes to the city’s 2014 budgets.

As a result, city council has approved roughly $9.4 million in capital and $58,000 in operating spending in 2014, and $184,000 in 2015 for projects and services. The decisions were part of the mid-year budget review on Tuesday.

Mayor Tara Veer said it is better for council and city administration to get ahead of the game now rather than wait six more months for the full-year next budget deliberations.

Dean Krejci, chief financial officer, said the city is on track financially and there have been no surprises this year.

One of the key decisions made on Tuesday was putting nearly $9 million more into the water and sewer projects to serve Red Deer’s northeast.

The city had already allocated $14.5 million for the two projects.

But the approval of a high school site, changes in school site orientation and poor soil conditions forced the city to move up its plans to build additional trunk lines and storm water ponds by one year.

Council passed first readings of a borrowing bylaw to front the servicing costs.

The costs are expected to be recovered through offsite levies charged to developers.

Coun. Dianne Wyntjes said this shows how the city’s decisions are connected to the provincial decisions with the announcement of the schools. She said the city will face less impact in the 2015-2016 budget or something will take its place.

Relocation of two of the city’s fire halls moved ahead with council’s approval of $402,000 for the design phase. The projects were originally scheduled for 2017 in the 10-year capital budget.

But city manager Craig Curtis said it is necessary to move the projects up because of the need to accommodate housing development north of Timberlands.

The city plans to close Station 4 in Deer Park and move that platoon north to Timberlands, and move the platoon in the dispatch centre (Station 3) on 32nd Street to a still-to-be determined southern location. Station 3 would remain the Emergency Services headquarters station.

Council will receive a detailed report with a recommended site in the next couple of months. The city is considering a site near 22nd Street and 30th Avenue and awaits the detailed response times of the proposed site.

Coun. Ken Johnston spoke from experience about when his house went up in flames in 2004. His family suffered a $250,000 loss.

“I can tell you what a service level means to a home owner,” said Johnston. “Trucks were on scene within two minutes. Fire doubles in size every 30 seconds and within five minutes we would have lost our home. Again when we think about capital spending … we have to get it down to a service level and a citizen who deserves that particular service level.”

A confined space simulator for Emergency Services and two more dispatch consoles were also approved for a total of $80,000.

Bart Rowland, Emergency Services deputy fire chief of operations, welcomed the news. He said the new consoles will help train better firefighters and provide regional support to other places.

“When they bought the original fire hall in Deer Park, it was always considered a temporary hall because of the growth,” said Rowland. “Now we have achieved that growth with that provincial standard on high intensity residential fire.”

While no discussion evolved on Tuesday, Curtis noted that one of the emerging issues that may affect the 2015 budget will be addressing the Red Deer Arena’s roof structure. Curtis told council that the roof has about a three-year lifespan remaining. It was built on a 1950s code while the today’s structures have a higher standard. He said they are looking at a potential $8-million upgrade, including safety measures, over the next three years, or a $15 to $20 million replacement of the arena. He noted the city does regular testing of the roof. The city is installing a truss monitoring system to ensure they know of any problems well in advance.

Other highlights:

l A five-month community shuttle bus pilot will be on the road in Red Deer starting in September.

Council approved the $72,600 expenditure ($35,000 lease cost, $15,000 maintenance and $22,600 fuel) for the pilot to run until Jan. 31, 2014. A few councillors said they were waiting for this project for many years. The shuttle bus will service areas with low ridership numbers and areas that conventional buses cannot access due to road constraints.

Red Deer Transit manager George Penny said they want to look at ridership in the new areas of the city and in existing routes.

“We do get people who phone us saying why do we have a 40-foot bus driving around Red Deer with one or two people in it,” said Penny. “Sometimes they don’t see as it moves through their area the bus fills up. We do know we have some data that says Route 6 is low ridership. For us to put a community shuttle in that area would be an ideal situation.”

The routes have not been determined.

Areas such as Kerry Wood Nature Centre and Michener Centre do not have bus service because of the constraints.

Penny said there are areas in the city where they have heard complaints.

Penny said they hope to try different areas in the city. The project will allow the city to gather information that will assist in analyzing the cost benefits of implementing shuttle buses in the regular fleet.

l Council approved one-time funding of $169,500 to conduct a 2015 municipal census. This year’s census revealed Red Deer’s population has reached 98,585, a 1.5 per cent increase over 2013.

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