St. Albert City Council finally approved the controversial branch library borrowing bylaw this week, but it won’t mean much. Whether or not the library gets built will be a decision for the next council. In election season, it’s classic political stalling.
The borrowing bylaw, which would allow council to borrow up to $21.9 million for its construction, was subject to a citizen’s petition that ultimately was deemed insufficient. But the petition was successful in that the decision has been deferred until after the October election.
Council initially approved a new branch library in the 2017 budget, passed in December, after years of discussion and community consultation. But there won’t be a branch library under this council. Regardless of which side of the branch library debate you are on, council has bungled the handling of this issue. They’ve sent mixed messages as they approved the branch library and its borrowing, but they continue to put up road blocks along the way.
Despite surveys and studies and council’s rubber stamp, the issue will be put to a non-binding plebiscite on the ballot. The next council will have to weigh the outcome of the plebiscite and the results of the just approved holistic review of recreation and cultural facility planning, which will be presented to council in spring 2018.
The city is supposed to use a “new facility predictive model” to determine when new facilities were required, using analytics and data. The intention was to try and take the politics out of these decisions, but politics continue to be a big part of these discussions. Now we have politicians wanting even further study before making a controversial decision.
That’s not to say that the comprehensive recreation and cultural facilities review itself is a bad idea. It’s good to take a look at all options and operating models, including third party operation. There are multiple groups looking to partner with the city and build facilities – Dynamyx Gymnastics and Active Communities Alberta, among others – so it’s important to know the pros and cons of different operating and funding models.
Dynamyx’s proposal is notable because they also tried to have the facility built through the Capital Partnership Program, a failed endeavour that aimed to build infrastructure with community groups, but never received funding and was ultimately killed. One wonders how many studies and programs are required to get shovels in the ground for these projects.
It’ll be up to the next council to determine the best way forward, based on the study, the plebiscite, the community’s needs and the cost. We elect council to make decisions, not delay them when the topic gets heated. If this council can’t make a decision it certainly isn’t because it didn’t have the time to get it right. Four years should have been plenty. So, like the controversial new utility model decision in 2013, council has opted to take cover and delay a decision until after the election. We shouldn’t be surprised. That’s just politics.