Library petition ruled invalid

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Although the petition against the city’s borrowing bylaw was deemed insufficient, Carrie Blouin hopes council will respect its intent.

“I still think that whether it’s valid or not, it still represents a large number of people,” said Blouin, who organized the petition.

On Monday, council was told that the petition to hold a public vote on the city’s borrowing bylaw, which would authorize the city to borrow up to $21.9 million to finance the construction of a new branch library, was deemed insufficient, namely due to problems with the affidavits.

In order to be legally binding, a petition must be representative of 10 per cent of a city’s population. In St. Albert’s case this means a total of 6,465 valid signatures must be collected.

The petition counted 6,696 entries from petitioners, but after a review by the city’s legal department, 588 signatures were found to be invalid, because of problems with the affidavits – an oath stating that a person witnessed all of the signatures in the attached portion of the petition.

Chris Belke, chief legislative officer, told council that another 444 signatures were identified as questionable, but were not fully investigated.

Far from disappointed, Blouin said the point of the petition was less about stopping the construction of a new library branch and more about informing residents of the project and how it would affect their taxes.

“This is a very large tax increase,” she said. “Is this really what residents want to spend their taxes on?” she said.

She hopes that council will wait to make any decisions about funding a new library branch until after the municipal election is held in October.

In May, Coun. Sheena Hughes put forward a motion to put the support for the construction of a new branch library, a new arena and a new aquatics centre on the ballot during the next municipal election. It passed with a 4-3 margin, with Mayor Nolan Crouse and councillors Wes Brodhead and Tim Osborne opposed.

The questions on the ballot would provide details about project costs and associated tax implications.

Cost estimates provided by administration put the construction of a library at $19 million with an annual operating cost of $2 million, for a potential 3.4-per-cent tax increase.

Hughes also wants to hold off on passing a borrowing bylaw until after the election. She said the impact of 6,000-plus signatures needs to resonate with council and puts into question the level of community support for the project.

“Council was given the impression of a certain level of support,” said Hughes, who said she would be bringing forward a plan B for council’s consideration.

Hughes’ motion involves putting the library on the consideration list for expansion within St. Albert Place.

Over the past several years, city staff has been relocating out of city hall into satellite offices. The construction of a new city hall is also part of the city’s 10-year capital plan.

Expanding the library into the main floor Community and Protective Services offices would cost significantly less, she said. At approximately $85 per square foot, the cost would come up to under $400,000, which she said could be covered in the current capital budget.

“I’m doing this in the event the plebiscite results don’t support a new library,” she said, “so that council has another option and it’s not all or nothing.”

Another option going forward, said Belke, is to reduce the scope of a borrowing bylaw and fund part of the project up front. Given the estimated costs included a margin of plus or minus 50 per cent – this could make the amount much more palatable.

There is $11 million in the capital budget that is not earmarked for a specific project.

Council will debate options going forward on July 10.

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Michelle Ferguson