Council barnburner

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The words ‘barnburner’ and ‘council meetings’ don’t often go hand-in-hand, but June 25th’s city council meeting has the makings of a classic.

The reason for the star-studded agenda is June 25th signifies the last meeting of the city’s second quarter, and council has pushed a few big issues to the end of Q2.

There are four items council is scheduled to grapple with. The first (in no particular order) is cannabis. There are three bylaws coming before council: land-use, smoking and business licensing. Where will cannabis retail stores be allowed to operate in St. Albert? How far do these stores have to be from each other? How far will they have to be from schools? Will people be able to smoke cannabis in public spaces like the city’s walking trails, parks, or even walking down the sidewalk? Will people be able to light up at public events like festivals and concerts?

The marijuana debate could take up an entire meeting on its own, but council has at least three more vexing issues to deal with, and next up is Active Communities. This group wants to build a $60-million sport campus on a piece of land that mostly resides just outside of St. Albert’s southwest border. The campus would include four sheets of ice and two large gymnasium fieldhouses. Active Communities needs a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) from the city so the group can apply for provincial funding. The city has $20 million set aside for an extra sheet of ice at Servus Place, but if the city supports this project, the $20 million would obviously go towards a project with many more amenities.

This project is, however, a sticky one. A year ago the city signed an MOU with the St. Albert Soccer Association (SASA), giving support for its planned ‘Field of Dreams’ – a $31-million facility that includes one roofed and seven outdoor soccer fields. SASA wants the same piece of land Active Communities wants. Can the two groups work together to do one massive, $90-million project?

The anticipated Facility Development Collaborations report is also expected to be delivered to council June 25. This report should reveal the usage pressures on St. Albert’s public facilities. Once council undoubtedly hears the news that our facilities are oversubscribed, council can expect to debate what it will do about it in the coming months. Funding will be the elephant in the room.

Speaking of funding, council is scheduled to debate the proposed electricity franchise fee. If council puts it through, it will mean an additional $3.1 million in the city’s coffers per year, which is music to come councillors’ ears as they’ve said the city needs a new revenue stream. The idea behind the fee is to get money out of those entities who do not pay property taxes, namely schools, churches and not-for-profits like the food bank. The business community is raising a fuss about the fee. If council approves it, the majority of businesses in St. Albert (those that do not own their own property and rent space) will see their electricity bills go up.

If there’s any doubt city councillors don’t earn their pay, put it to rest, at least until after June 25.

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St. Albert Gazette

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