City council candidates talk facility planning

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Three projects from the city’s 10-year capital plan – a sixth ice sheet, an aquatics facility and a branch library – will appear on the election ballot in October to gauge voter support. The vote won’t be binding.

The Gazette asked mayoral and councillor candidates for St. Albert to share their thoughts on facility development within the city. We posed a two-part question.

Aside from the candidates listed here, Al Bohachyk, Gilbert Cantin, Ufuoma Odebala-Fregene and Ray Watkins are also running for council but did not provide responses.

Part 1: What facilities in the 10-year capital plan, if any, do you think the city needs to build in the next four years?

Cathy Heron, mayoral candidate
The city has limited resources and I see significant tax increases as unacceptable. The bigger question is how will we plan for these projects so that we don’t get behind on funding like we are now. We need a better plan for capital projects and non-tax-based options for funding them. The timing of all of this will be determined by fiscal prudency, not personal or political agendas. Currently, the 10-year capital plan to deal with growth has projects such as traffic calming, parking structure in the downtown, park and ride for transit users, Millennium Park and many more. We have spent hundreds of thousands to do preliminary studies on many of these and I do not want to see this money wasted. St. Albert did not become #1 by postponing our needs; we became #1 thanks to strong leadership and tough decisions.

Cam MacKay, mayoral candidate
I have committed to allow voters to make the big decisions through plebiscite votes. I want voters to decide directly on all discretionary items that cost more than $40 million in capital or carry an annual operating cost greater than a one per cent tax increases. In my opinion, the highest priority is more pool space. Fountain Park Pool is always busy, we have a lengthy wait list for access to swimming lessons and many swim clubs are not taking on new members due to a lack of facilities. In regard to the library, I would like to examine: the current utilization of space, expansion at City Hall or using other city space such as neighbourhood clubhouses for programming prior to building a new facility.

Malcolm Parker, mayoral candidate
Data shows St. Albert should consider a branch library in the near future. Whether to build a second standalone library or lease space for a branch location needs to be evaluated. A lease option would be a helpful bridge to address the short term needs, but give the city flexibility for future economic and population growth. There are numerous different amenities including a pool and additional ice rink that would improve our community and we need to propose an affordable budget with timelines. My recommendation for the 10-year capital plan would be consideration of a north side multi-use facility, presently underserved by city amenities and this is where commercial and residential growth is occurring. This project would include a permanent branch library, recreation center, ice rink, aquatic space, civic space and community centre.

Sandyne Beach-McCutcheon, council candidate
I believe that further planning on the three aforementioned projects, as well as Fire Station #4, is required over Council’s term to respond to residents’ expectations and the needs of our growing city. What we can build will be dependent on Council’s vision for the future and its consideration of a variety of factors including impact on taxpayers, funding options, land needs, operational approach and partnership possibilities.

Wes Brodhead, council candidate
The city is growing and it is Council’s responsibility to ascertain the facility needs of the community. Council then should assess both the financial cost of immediate construction versus inflationary cost of delay and lost opportunity of providing the additional service to the community. Preferably, Council addresses community needs in a measured manner without a self imposed four year time horizon. While all three facilities are needed, my first priority is addressing required library space.

Jan Butler, council candidate
A new branch library was identified in the 2008 10-year Capital Plan. It is now 2017 and we are still having the debate. During the next term, Council will need to find a way to build the library or shelve it completely for another four years. If Council can’t find a solution to build the library then all the facilities that are needed for a growing community are at risk.

Craig Cameron, council candidate
St Albert is on a path of steady growth. A large part of its attraction (certainly for my family) is its reputation for providing a high quality of life. If we are to grow without losing our reputation, council has to invest in a range of projects today that are part of a clear plan for a vibrant tomorrow. Citizen voice and regional opportunities should be considered as council puts forward a strategy for empowering growth.

Mark Cassidy, council candidate
The new standalone branch library process is flawed both with financial estimates and with a poorly implemented survey to determine the need. I am an advocate of a “no” vote for the library. I like the fact private funds are in a working model for an arena but see the need to support knocking on doors for an aquatic centre. Further public input needs to be determined for any future facility, if any.

Jacy Eberlein, council candidate
I believe that within the next four years the city will need to begin construction of a new branch library. The library should be the basis for all municipal projects for the foreseeable future. It is the furthest along in planning and therefore must take priority over the other projects.

Jacquie Hansen, council candidate
Like many St. Albertans, I would like to see facility builds that address the growing needs of our city, including the library, ice sheet(s) and park and ride. We have many interests in our city. However, it is not the job of sitting councillors to bring personal agendas. Council chambers is a place to listen to all perspectives, balance the needs and quality of life, be financially prudent and be united on a plan going forward.

Sheena Hughes, council candidate
This decision should involve the general public and not exclusively the council elect and the special interest groups that lobby them. Discretionary large capital projects should have the support of the majority of the electorate, as they will be the ones who will have to incur the tax increase for decades once construction begins. The will of the public should be respected by those elected to represent them.

Charlene Jelinski, council candidate
Wants versus needs would have to carefully be considered prior to me supporting any of these three projects. I believe council has to be guided by the majority of residents prior to building capital projects that will have significant cost implications for them. I am hesitant to say the city needs to build any of these until I see results from a clearly worded, factual plebiscite question brought forward to the residents.

Natalie Joly, council candidate
The large project priorities from the 10-year Growth Capital Budget that need to move forward in order to meet community demand include a library branch, an ice surface, and an aquatics/fitness expansion. As your councillor, I will consider the concerns of all residents, including the potential impact of increased taxes, accessibility of public facilities and quality of living.

Shayne Kawalilak, council candidate
All financial decisions like this should be made after consideration of facts and as a team serving the best interest of St. Albert. I feel that the ice sheet is the clearest development to move forward with because there is a defined need and there is defined revenue. The library seems to have a huge price tag with minimal real solutions to me and the pool is a discussion that simply won’t fit in this space.

Mark Kay, council candidate
Items regarding residents’ safety and education are a priority of mine. I am attending daily community events with the intent of grasping the true needs of our residents. Recreation areas are important, as they have a lasting health effect and will hopefully help with our currently ballooning health care costs. I enjoying hearing what the voters have to say regarding the current capital projects.

Ken MacKay, council candidate
I will support moving forward with the facilities identified in the capital plan. Each one of the three major capital projects outlined in the 10-year capital plan have gone through the preliminary planning stages and council has already approved in principal the branch library, the aquatic facility and the single sheet arena ice. The need for these facilities does not disappear after Oct. 16.

Nestor Petriw, council candidate
Our residents are hard-working, busy people. When you consider the things that add to our enjoyment of life, recreation and physical fitness are central to physical and mental health. As a key to quality of life, these goals should be supported. I would support the new aquatics facility and ice sheet. Demand for library services outstripped the existing library years ago. It would make sense to build a new branch library to supply the demand.

Hannes Rudolph, council candidate
Based on the growing and projected future needs of St. Albert, I think we need a new pickleball court, a new ice sheet, more library space, and expanded aquatics and fitness space in the next four years.


Bob Russell, council candidate
My personal choice based on feedback from voters are, in this order: a sixth ice sheet; an aquatics facility as a close second; and a modest, efficient branch library in the northeast sector.

Steve Stone, council candidate
A binding plebiscite is required to answer this question; citizens must decide. It is unfortunate that Council did not honour the close to 6,700 signatories who signed the “Library Funding” petition, disqualifying its binding obligation because of a technicality of a few signatures not being properly witnessed. The three original (now discarded) council approved questions for the plebiscite were all very clear and would have provided the right “road map” for Council to follow.

Tash Taylor, council candidate
All items in the capital plan have merit but we can’t afford it all on the timeline presented. There are some big-ticket items on the horizon we also need to pay attention to, such as the fire hall and Park and Ride.  I’m open to a library but not supportive of an additional financial hit for residents. Other funding solutions exist that could allow for a new library without the level of financial burden presented. Creative solutions are there if we stop thinking all these projects must be financed entirely by the public tax base.

Jaye Walter, council candidate
I would be taking my marching orders from St. Albert voters and taxpayers in regard to facility building and maintenance. There is only one taxpayer, and that taxpayer is the boss.

Leonard Wilkins, council candidate
The branch library, aquatics facility and sixth ice sheet should be in the 10-year capital plan. I think that we need a branch library within four years, with the additional pool and the sixth ice sheet being added as soon as financially feasible. We can’t build everything at once and still keep taxes to a minimum. Let’s build what we can afford.

Barry Zukewich, council candidate
With the continuing economic struggle here in Alberta, it is my opinion that asking taxpayers to “dig a little deeper” to fund the three projects in question would be fiscally negligent. While I do not doubt that the facilities in question would be a marvelous addition to our city, putting off these projects until our economy improves would not be life changing. My goals if elected to council would be to hold tax increases below the Canadian rate of inflation and maintain the current level of services we now enjoy.

Part 2: How would you like council to respond to the results of the plebiscite?

Cathy Heron, mayoral candidate
The ballot questions are important feedback that needs to be combined with the other data collected so council can make an educated decision. Although the questions are not binding, they are an extremely valuable form of public engagement. Already at the door I am hearing huge support and opposition for all three projects, just concern on how to deliver these necessary facilities without impacting taxes. The traditional approach of single-use, publicly-owned amenities needs to be challenged.

Cam MacKay, mayoral candidate
With the wording changes at council, a “yes” vote means to continue further planning but a “no” vote means that there is no further planning and the project should not be considered and removed from the capital plan. The ‘no” vote is very clear on what it means; however, a “yes” vote is not, as future planning could mean anything from building the project ASAP to simply doing some further planning. Despite these limitations, I will abide by the results of the plebiscite. I feel that it is important to respect the democratic process and the will of the people. If enough people vote to continue future planning on a library, pool or rink, I will work earnestly to achieve the priorities. If greater than 50 per cent of the votes are “no,” I will cease future planning on that particular project.

Malcolm Parker, mayoral candidate
Overall, this plebiscite is an important bell weather of the electorate’s general mood toward planning future city amenities. The city should immediately publish the raw results of the plebiscite. Based on the results, Council can identify priorities, propose a budget with timelines and set a tax rate based on each project so the electorate is knowledgeable of the costs and tax implications.

Sandyne Beach-McCutcheon, council candidate
Council has a responsibility to thoughtfully consider the plebiscite results. Distinctively strong support for one of three projects provides direction; however, City Council’s Mission (Policy C-CG-01) currently is to “represent the residents of St. Albert, make decisions in the best interests of the entire community and ensure the corporation delivers results that will help sustain a high quality of life for St. Albertans.” Decisions should be made within the context of best interests of the entire community.

Wes Brodhead, council candidate
Whenever the electorate is asked to provide input into a decision before Council, it is imperative that Council honour the response. The challenge is always how to interpret the response. It will certainly be helpful if the response is clear and unequivocal. Council direction will then be clear. However, the challenge will still fall to Council to implement the direction provided. If “yes,” how soon does Council react? If “no,” is it “no” forever?

Jan Butler, council candidate
Council needs to address that the responses to the plebiscite reflect the wishes of the taxpayers of St. Albert. Residents moved to St. Albert to raise their families and enjoy the quality of life that is here. Council must take the responses and find solutions for the needs. Previous studies completed have shown that all three facilities are important.

Craig Cameron, council candidate
A plebiscite can be a powerful democratic tool. Used well, it provides citizens direct influence over fundamental elements of their community. Used poorly, it can be seen as the elected Council avoiding its responsibilities. The non-binding plebiscite questions before us ask if our city council should continue to plan. Council must always be listening to the community. Not planning to meet real community needs is irresponsible. New council must consider the results and take clear action.

Mark Cassidy, council candidate
I believe in participatory democracy whereby the electorate has a say by all means technically possible to engage the public before building capital projects. The non-binding plebiscite was better with accurate numbers for transparency purposes and it’s now a watered down process. Our current economic situation also is an essential factor and we can’t rely on public grants. I will honour the electorate’s decision if it’s overwhelming in favour of a project or against all.

Jacy Eberlein, council candidate
Although this plebiscite is non-binding, Council should abide by it. Council is elected by the people, for the people, and to ignore the will of a majority would be to betray the public.

 

Jacquie Hansen, council candidate
Binding or not, council has a responsibility to listen and consider the results of the ballot questions, discuss next steps, come up with a solid plan and recognize that these capital projects are important to our growth. All will require thoughtful discussion, discernment and public engagement. Let’s look at these ballot questions as an opportunity to think outside the box and explore less traditional funding models. Council needs to listen, be informed and be united.

Sheena Hughes, council candidate
The majority of council watered down the wording from “construct in the next four years” to “further planning” and removed all associated costs.  As a result, both the public and the next council will not know what support for “further planning” really means. Residents deserve a plebiscite with costs disclosed and timeline intentions stated to determine public support for the project, and a council that examines affordable alternatives before proceeding with the most expensive option.

Charlene Jelinski, council candidate
Council has an obligation to represent the residents. Therefore, council should honour the results of a plebiscite. Further planning is a vague descriptor and this wording does not direct council to proceed with any of the mentioned projects only to consider more planning of them. The previous plebiscite question gave much more information and asked a direct question in which residents had the opportunity to prioritize each project.

Natalie Joly, council candidate
The plebiscite shows that there is a need for improved communication about the development of capital plans. Council will have to consider all methods of funding – debt servicing, reserves and grant opportunities – to choose the method that best meets the need of the community. Communication and transparency with residents throughout design and build must also be exceptional. All considerations must be reviewed such as combining community facilities, designs that will best meet the needs of a diverse user base and ensuring complete resident accessibility.

Shayne Kawalilak, council candidate
It is not binding but I expect council to respond as one team doing what is in the best interest of St. Albert. If a vast majority of voters agree, then it would be our duty to listen regardless of our personal opinions. These decisions will shape the future of our city and it would be a change for me as I would need to balance what would be best for all our children instead of just my nine.

Mark Kay, council candidate
I hope that council takes into account the residents’ opinion in the plebiscite. Council should research the information and facts given to the previous council on the issues. Many issues have already been presented, where studies and facts are readily available to council to move forward in the appropriate direction. I would like to see action taken on community issues to help find a resolution and to see St. Albert develop.

Ken MacKay, council candidate
I have heard from a large number of people that they made the decision to move to St. Albert because of the high quality of life and access to excellent amenities. Major projects require long-term vision and planning. I believe that it is the job of a councillor to develop our community for future generations. We must continue to provide the infrastructure and amenities that will attract and retain businesses and families.

Nestor Petriw, council candidate
While the result of the plebiscite may be non-binding, I believe that the result represents the voice of the electorate. In terms of fundamental notions of democracy, the plebiscite’s result should be respected. In my view, Council should make every effort to give effect to the result.

Hannes Rudolph, council candidate
I would like Council to use the results to help guide construction priority of the library, ice sheet and aquatics space.

 

Bob Russell, council candidate
While the ballot results are not binding, if elected my actions will be governed by ballot results.

 

Steve Stone, council candidate
Clarity on the intention of the electorate would need to be addressed by Council.The new “plebiscite” questions are misleading because interpretation of the phrase “further planning” is left up to the individual. For example, does “further planning” mean to purchase land today and start building tomorrow? Does it mean to begin reviewing options in five or ten years’ time? Or does it mean to proceed without hindrance in doing whatever suits some on Council?

Tash Taylor, council candidate
What would the purpose be of conducting a plebiscite if there is no intention of supporting the results? In public engagement practice, a plebiscite, binding or not, is not merely another exercise in community consultation – it escalates a matter into the realm of public decision-making. Given the importance of plebiscites, I could not in good conscience discount the results. This situation is about public trust as much as it is about a facility build.

Jaye Walter, council candidate
The challenge with the plebiscite is that the current council has changed the questions, and so in my opinion a new plebiscite would have to be held with crystal clear questions. Voters need to know exactly what they are voting for. What specifically does “further planning” entail? Will that mean building a project, or studying a project and examining all of the alternatives, and making the best possible decision on behalf of taxpayers?

Leonard Wilkins, council candidate
The council should use the results of the plebiscite to forecast the usage of each facility and proceed with the projects that will have a sufficient user base to justify building them. The projects should be prioritized in order of demand.

Barry Zukewich, council candidate
After much consideration regarding the wording of the upcoming plebiscite, it is my belief that council should act accordingly with the results. I believe that if the voter turnout in the election is able to choose the representation for Council, it is only logical that Council follow the wishes of the people that elected them for the length of their tenure.

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