Town council candidates debate the big issues

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Photo radar, the rec-centre, and cloning Andy Isbister were just some of the big issues up for debate last Wednesday as Morinville’s town council candidates made their case to the public.

About 46 people came out to hear council candidates Rebecca Balanko, Nicole Boutestein, Stephen Dafoe, Lawrence Giffin, Sarah Hall, Neil McDougall and Scott Richardson explain their stances on the future of Morinville at an all-candidates forum hosted by the Morinville & District Chamber of Commerce at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre last Sept. 27.

Moderator Simon Boersma asked the candidates written questions from the audience on a variety of topics.

Mayor-elect Barry Turner was not asked any questions, but did give introductory remarks.

There were clear differences in skill level between incumbents Dafoe and Boutestein and the other first-time candidates.

On the question of library funding, for example, Boutestein and Dafoe were able to give specific answers on the budget process while the others were more general, explaining that they were not familiar with the library’s budget. Hall and Richardson called for a pet bylaw that applied to cats and dogs, only to be told, correctly, by Boutestein that the town already had such a law. McDougall questioned if Morinville had any dentists, and was promptly informed by his fellow candidates that it had about four.

But the candidates otherwise showed broad agreement on a variety of topics, such as the importance of the library (very), the question of city status (don’t bother, except for Richardson who said it could draw investment), and what to look for in the next chief administrative officer.

“I think we should just clone (CAO) Andy (Isbister),” joked Hall on the latter topic.

“If we could clone Andy, it would be great,” agreed Dafoe.

Radar and rec-centre

The candidates showed sharper differences on whether or not to keep photo radar.

Dafoe said he had introduced measures in council to ensure all cash from this program went towards public safety and to cap the amount of time operators could spend at any one spot. He also got council to agree to debate whether to keep, drop, or bring in-house the program next term.

“I’m reluctant to say yes or no,” he said, in terms of dropping it, adding that he would make his decision based on the evidence at the time when council debates the matter.

Boutestein said the town was locked into its photo radar contract for now, and that cash from it helped pay for the Community Cultural Centre.

“The money was well spent, and if you didn’t speed, you didn’t pay.”

Balanko, who had received a photo radar ticket, said that while council had done much to ensure the cash from photo radar went to the right place, the tickets themselves did little to deter speeders.

“It is a completely voluntary tax, but I don’t know honestly that we can say it’s about safety.”

Hall said she had never seen a photo radar operator on her street despite its reputation for speeding. While she supported the program, she wanted to see more speed display signs in town, as those were a more effective deterrent.

Giffin opposed photo radar, saying that “any time you privatize law enforcement you have an inherent conflict of interest.”

When it came to paying for the new rec-centre, Richardson said the town would have to partner with Sturgeon County, get corporate sponsors and supplement it with rentals.

“Right now it’s very hard to find ice time” in this area, he said, and St. Albert customers would likely come to rent space here.

While Giffin said the town would need to expand its tax base to afford the rec-centre, Hall said the town would naturally see such growth given that it was getting two new schools and other developments in the near future.

“I do believe in the saying ‘If you build it they will come,’” she said, arguing that the rec-centre would draw more businesses, tournaments and hotels.

When asked if the town should build a pool today, Dafoe said no, and that the town could not afford it. The pool would lose about $700,000 a year, and Sturgeon County will only cover $175,000 of that through its cost-sharing agreement.

“A pool costs $28 million. Do the math, folks. We’re not there.”

While she supported a splash park or sledding hills, Hall said she could not support an immediate pool, given that St. Albert’s pools were underutilized.

“The cost just does not justify the want.”

Town residents go to the polls Oct. 16.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.