2017 brought a tumultuous end to a bitterly divided St. Albert city council and heralded a new beginning with October’s municipal election.
The year was marked by passionate debate and political scandals at city hall but also by successes and strong civic engagement. As council moves forward into a new era, the Gazette takes a look back at some of the most newsworthy stories to come out of city hall.
If you ask councillors what they are most proud of accomplishing in 2017, their lists cover everything from newly established committees to projects like the construction of the Healing Garden.
2017 started off strong with councillors approving the internal audit committee in February. Council also approved $325,000 in funding for the committee, which will direct an internal auditor in a quest to review city services and find potential savings.
February also marked the launch of St. Albert’s backyard hen pilot program, which saw three out of seven applicants accepted and garnered interest from at least 47 households.
The month of April brought with it the beginning of St. Albert’s efforts to annex land from Sturgeon County. Both councils signed a memorandum of understanding for an uncontested annexation, which would see St. Albert add up to 2,180 hectares of land at an estimated cost of $2.6 million. The land will allow for decades of projected growth. The new committee overseeing annexation negotiations convened at the beginning of December.
Summer successes saw the passing of a bylaw to establish a policing committee in June, which will help to set policing priorities in St. Albert and provide civilian oversight.
In September, St. Albert completed the $324,000 Healing Garden located across the river from St. Albert Place. The project aims to teach people about the history of residential schools in St. Albert and honour residential school survivors.
September and October brought St. Albert’s municipal election into full swing, with a total of 28 candidates on the ballot, the most the city has ever had. Oct. 16’s election day saw incumbents Cathy Heron, Wes Brodhead and Sheena Hughes re-elected alongside newcomers Jacquie Hansen, Natalie Jolie, Ken MacKay, and Ray Watkins.
2017 ushered in a looming capital funding deficit that saw the majority of new projects in the 2018 capital budget postponed to 2019.
In October 2016, the city expected the capital budget deficit to be $310 million over 10 years. Councillors tangled with the second year of that shortfall this November and December, cutting the capital budget from $44.4 million to $29.9 million and deferring the remainder to next year’s budget in order to cover basic repair, maintenance and replacement costs as well as a bit of new growth.
In July and August, a Court of Queen’s Bench justice found former mayor Nolan Crouse had violated rules by voting on matters he had a financial stake in, but did not remove him from office, stating Crouse’s decisions had been made “in good faith.”
Later in August, council received the results of a municipal inspection report that pointed to infighting and a lack of civility within city council.
The report laid out a description of a council that wasn’t fulfilling its role of governance and instead was getting into the weeds on matters better left to administration.
Several council decisions in 2017 had the public gallery at city hall filled to bursting as residents sought to make their voices heard.
Throughout the first half of 2017, the issue of a borrowing bylaw allocating $21.9 million to finance the construction of a branch library came up at multiple meetings.
The bylaw sparked a petition organized by resident Carrie Blouin, which counted 6,696 names but was declared invalid by the city because 588 signatures were not properly sworn.
The branch library joined two other potential capital projects – a new ice surface and a new aquatics centre – on the ballot for October’s municipal election, where the majority of voters marked down the aquatics centre as their top priority. The branch library got the fewest votes out of the three.
In November, councillors voted down a proposed swap of parkland for a piece of land along the Sturgeon River owned by a developer in the Braeside neighbourhood. Fourteen residents spoke against the project and two came out in favour.
The gallery at city hall could not contain the amount of residents who attended that meeting and required two overflow areas to be set up.
City council ultimately approved the rezoning of the three single family lots to make way for an 80-unit condo project at the Braeside site. However, the debate over the parkland swap and the rezoning sparked suggestions from residents that council create a long-term conservation plan for the Sturgeon River valley.
Coun. Sheena Hughes will bring forward a motion for that plan in 2018.