St. Albert city council decided to go forward with a borrowing bylaw intended to fund the construction of a new branch library, despite the opposition of nearly 6,500 residents.
In April, residents who were unhappy with the tax increase associated with a new branch library organized a petition opposing a bylaw that would allow council to borrow up to $21.9 million for its construction.
Despite the petition being found insufficient – there were not enough valid signatures – some residents were hopeful council would respect its intent and hold off on approving second and third readings of the bylaw until after the ballot question was posed during the October election.
Coun. Cam MacKay put forward a motion to postpone second reading to Nov. 20, 2017, but that motion was defeated 4-3, with councillors MacKay, Sheena Hughes and Bob Russell voting in favour. Mayor Nolan Crouse, and councillors Cathy Heron, Tim Osborne and Wes Brodhead were the dissenters.
Brodhead said the branch library has been studied to death and this council has the responsibility to make a decision.
“The speculation about whether (6,500) signatures is representative of public mood or not will be answered loud and clearly with a direct vote by the public,” said MacKay.
Second and third readings were passed with the same margin, but with councillors MacKay, Hughes and Russell voting against both.
Many residents involved in the St. Albert library petition Facebook group expressed their discontent Monday night and Tuesday morning.
Long-time resident Mark Cassidy, who moderates the group, told the Gazette that council was wasting its time approving the bylaw when a ballot question was forthcoming.
“I think the people should decide. We’re so close to an election that we can have their opinion expressed in the election and proceed from there,” said Cassidy.
Though the borrowing has been approved, ultimately it will be up to the next council to decide whether to move forward with the construction of a new branch library or not.
Administration needs direction from council to enter into land negotiations and subsequent design work, which this council will not give, considering they have asked for a holistic review of all new and proposed facilities, including the branch library. This report will come back to council in the spring of 2018.
“There will be not a single penny spent on a library stand-alone branch until next year and the next council,” said Coun. Heron.
Coun. Hughes proposed moving Community and Protective Services out of St. Albert Place and renovating the 4,154 square-feet of office and boardroom space to accommodate library needs.
Hughes argued that location and access are not a problem in St. Albert and that similarly sized municipalities, such as Medicine Hat and Grande Prairie, chose not to build branch libraries when more space was needed. Instead these cities invested in bigger buildings to save on operating expenses.
She argued this alternative solution would allow library needs to be met in the event the ballot question did not support the construction of a new branch. The motion was defeated 4-3, with councillors MacKay and Russell supporting Hughes.