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    Categories: Local News

Branch library highest priority, survey says

A survey shows St. Abertans are most keen to see a branch library, then a new aquatics facility, and lastly a new indoor ice surface.

However, many residents don’t necessarily want a tax increase to pay for the projects.

The results of the city’s capital project prioritizing survey, conducted by telephone in September, were provided to council as part of its information package for the Oct. 24 meeting.

The fact a branch library is the highest priority among surveyed residents comes as little surprise to those who have been advocating for the project.

Library board vice chair Janice Marschner said she has heard often from residents who see this project as a priority, and feels the survey will bolster that argument.

“I think the council has received the information they were looking for, and it happened to work out in our favour,” she said. “It’s what we expected, and we’re really glad it did look that way.”

Library director Peter Bailey echoed that response, noting he’s been hearing of the need for a branch since he arrived in the city 15 years ago.

“We’ve been pushing it because we’re responding to what we’ve heard from the community for many, many, many years,” he said. “It’s no surprise to us that people are in favour of the project. I’ve been hearing it since I arrived in St. Albert.”

While the results were presented in several different ways such as having respondents rate the facilities before and after hearing the prospective tax increases, and having respondents rank the facilities in order of priority, the results generally appear to convey the same message. The library is the highest priority, followed by an aquatic facility then the indoor ice surface.

But when it came to how much of a percentage tax increase residents would be willing to pay to see these facilities built, roughly one third said zero and two thirds majority chose answers less than two per cent.

With respect to the library, however, the prospect of the associated tax increase didn’t appear to have a downward effect on support for the project.

The survey indicated building a library and aquatics facility might mean an increase of about 2.5 per cent each, while the ice surface would cost “just under” two per cent.

The city has plans to build all three projects over the next several years. Preliminary work on the branch library and an additional ice surface at Servus Place is slated to begin next year, and two additional swimming tanks for teaching and lane swimming at Servus Place are slated for 2018.

While the projects are included as part of the three-year plan, council has not yet confirmed funding will be available next year. Budget deliberations will take place throughout November, and a final decision is expected at the Dec. 12 meeting.

Mayor Nolan Crouse said the survey results show that all three are priorities for the community. With a margin of error of 4.5 per cent 19 times out of 20, one could interpret the results as showing all three projects are relatively equal in priority.

“The community is saying to council, we need them all,” he said.

He said while the projects technically can’t go forward until the budget is approved and a borrowing bylaw is approved for them, Coun. Tim Osborne has already put a borrowing bylaw on the table for the library and the arena.

Crouse said it would be appropriate to pass a bylaw authorizing the borrowing for not just those two, but for the pool as well. He said the city is in “good shape” with respect to its debt capacity; the only question is if residents will think now is the time to borrow for large projects.

“That’s the question council has to grapple with,” he said. “We’re heading into a municipal election, and there’s probably going to be many people campaigning on a fiscal-restraint ticket.”

Doug Neuman: