Crouse wants to amend plebiscite questions

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Three plebiscite questions approved earlier by St. Albert city council could change before voters go to the ballot box.

Mayor Nolan Crouse gave notice Tuesday of a motion to amend the questions, which originally passed May 15. Crouse’s motion is scheduled to come to council Sept. 5.

The current plebiscite asks voters whether they support the city building a branch library, arena ice rink and aquatics facility in the next four years, and includes costs of building and operating each facility as well as estimated tax increases.

Those numbers are $19 million for building, $2 million for annual operating costs and a total estimated tax increase of 3.4 per cent for the library; $20.5 million for building costs, $500,000 annual operating costs and an estimated 1.9 per cent tax increase for the ice rink; and $24 million building costs, $1.8 million annual operating costs and a 3.5 per cent estimated tax increase for the aquatics facility.

Crouse’s amendments would change the wording to ask whether voters are in favour of the city beginning to plan each facility, although that wording may change as well and could instead ask if voters favour further planning.

Councillors had mixed reactions to the motion. Sheena Hughes said she was between disgusted and disappointed. Cam MacKay said it was an attempt to subvert the democratic process. Wes Brodhead, Cathy Heron and Bob Russell said they are undecided on the motion and they want to hear from Crouse before making their decision. Tim Osborne could not be reached for comment by press time.

Crouse said his motion is an attempt to avoid misleading or confusing voters with numbers that haven’t been finalized.

“What we have, basically, is an uninformed current motion. It’s got some dollars in it that may be way wrong,” he said.

“What I’m proposing is we clean up the numbers and we just ask a more basic question.”

The original questions were brought forward May 15 by Hughes and passed in a 4-3 vote. Crouse was one of the members of council to oppose it, along with Coun. Tim Osborne and Coun. Wes Brodhead.

In response to Crouse’s motion, Hughes said the suggested changes would “neuter” the plebiscite and hinder voters from giving the city informed feedback.

“This isn’t a minor, tweaking thing. This is changing the entire intent of what we’re intending to do on this … We are watering it down to something that will be virtually meaningless if it were to pass.”

The motion may be challenged before it goes to debate. MacKay said there are procedural questions that will need to be addressed at the meeting.

He pointed to the council’s procedure bylaw, which requires exceptional circumstances for an approved motion to be brought back for amendment, and also to the requirement for proper notice to be given on a motion.

For the motion itself, MacKay said he plans to vote against it, calling it “an attempt to subvert the democratic process.”

Russell hasn’t decided how to vote, but was concerned about the timelines.

“I’m not sure what (Crouse’s) game plan is, because we’re really right at the end of the line in getting printing done for the ballots,” Russell said.

“I want to hear what he has to say.”

At the time of her original motion, Hughes informed councillors the numbers contained in the questions were not final. A May 9 administrative backgrounder for the motion noted city administration would ask councillors for an amendment at a later date should capital or operating costs change.

The current questions do not include land costs for the aquatics facility and ice rink.

Crouse said in an ideal situation the plebiscite would include detailed information on each project.

“The problem is there’s just not enough time to get that level of accuracy,” he said.

Heron said councillors expect to receive a presentation from city staff during the Sept. 5 meeting that will include updated numbers.

Crouse’s motion has also drawn ire from the St. Albert Library petition action group, which received nearly 6,700 signatures against borrowing for the library branch before being declared invalid.

In an Aug. 24 email, Library Petition action committee member Stan Lozinski stated the group hopes Crouse’s motion will be defeated.

Part of the May 15 council vote included allocating $10,000 toward a public education campaign. That campaign has not yet begun and is still in the planning stages.

The plebiscite has been a topic looming over council since Jan. 23, when Coun. Bob Russell proposed a motion asking administration to prepare the plebiscite.

Voters go to the polls on Oct. 16.

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