New grant program approved
$40 million available for new growth infrastructure
By: Peter Boer
| Posted: Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013 06:00 am
Mayor Nolan Crouse doesn’t want to call it a “fund.” Coun. Cam MacKay thinks the city has no business spending $40 million on anything.
But in the end, St. Albert’s not-for-profits and community organizations will have access to that much money for significant capital projects over the next five years as the standing committee on finance gave its endorsement to the Capital Partnership Program Monday night.
The only remaining legislative step is for council to approve it, but that should be a mere formality.
“We’ll start developing the infrastructure we require to grow the needs of our citizens,” said Crouse.
The program will provide $40 million over the course of five years to match up to one-third the cost of new growth infrastructure. The city is hoping local groups will be able to leverage that $40 million into $120 million of projects like community halls, recreation facilities and other cultural spaces. A separate committee will be set up to review and adjudicate applications.
The city will fund the $40 million by borrowing money from its own cash flow and the Municipal Sustainability Initiative at a rate of $8 million annually. It will pay that money back annually, which will boost property taxes in St. Albert 0.30 per cent for five years.
Private or for-profit projects will not be eligible under the program, city manager Patrick Draper explained.
“It wouldn’t be appropriate for a city to invest in infrastructure that creates profit,” Draper said.
The program was one of Draper’s first proposals after starting as city manager last spring. He noted to the standing committee on finance at the time that the city was spending more of its capital budget on maintenance and less every year on growth infrastructure.
But Coun. Cam MacKay, who has been a vocal opponent of the project, renewed his objections Monday, saying he couldn’t vote for a program that would automatically lead to $40 million in spending.
“I see the province trying to deal with how to restrict their budget and restrict its growth,” MacKay said. “I see the city trying to find a way to spend $40 million.”
Coun. Cathy Heron replied there was nothing “automatic” about the program.
“Some of the time the municipality is expected to spend the entire $120 million,” Heron said. “I’m entirely supportive of this.”
The proposal was originally called the Capital Partnership Fund, but Crouse called for any and all references to the word “fund” to be removed from the policy. It passed unanimously.
“I just think that when we describe a fund, then to me it infers there is money set aside,” Crouse said. “There is not something set aside specifically for this..”
The program, which appears to be unique in Alberta, is likely to begin in 2014.