Stettler petition puts spending plan on hold

A petition by County of Stettler residents has put council plans to borrow $7.6 million for a shop facility on hold.

A petition by County of Stettler residents has put council plans to borrow $7.6 million for a shop facility on hold.

Local business owner Brad Mappin is behind the petition, which was signed by about 1,100 people — more than double the number needed for a valid petition under the Municipal Government Act.

Mappin said he has never really got involved in politics before, “but this (petition) is something I thought needed to be done.

“It’s a lot of money that they’re wanting to spend, and a lot of people didn’t feel like they were being heard.”

Council received the petition on Wednesday and it was declared sufficient. A decision on how to proceed was deferred to the March 22 meeting.

Under the Municipal Government Act, council can decide not to proceed with its borrowing bylaw or put the issue to a referendum, which must take place within the next 90 days.

The shop facility has been a hot issue for weeks in the county. On March 2, county council posted an open letter on its website. Its goal it says is to “communicate some facts regarding the new shop facility and dispel misinformation being circulated that the council plans to double or triple taxes to pay for the proposed shop facility.”

The cost of the new 43,200-square-foot facility is estimated at $9.6 million, $7 million for the building and the rest to develop the land. Council proposed pulling $2 million out of reserves and borrowing $7.6 million, which would cost $400,000 a year over a 30-year term.

One option being considered was to cover all or part of the cost by introducing a special tax levy. The maximum additional charge on farmland/residential tax bills would range from around $35 to $70 per year depending on assessments. The minimum would be zero if council chose not to pass the cost on to tax bills.

The county defended the shop facility plan, arguing it would cost less to borrow for a new shop than retrofit the existing building.

“Repair costs could have the same effect on your tax bill only we would be sinking money into 47-year-old building that has air quality problems, electrical issues, space constraints, structural concerns and questionable insulation quality,” says the county.

Safety concerns forced the closure of public works offices in 2014 and they are now housed in trailers.

The cost of immediate repairs and an assessment of the shop starts at $1.2 million, and will cost more once renovations begin because the building must then be brought up to code.

As well, Alberta’s economic downturn means the county could save up to 35 per cent on building costs because of the competitive bidding climate, says the letter.

“We are in a unique situation, where construction now could add much-needed jobs and activity to our local economy.”

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