Motions to stop library planning fail

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St. Albert city council has defeated motions that would have rescinded the city’s branch library borrowing bylaw and ceased further planning to build and construct the project.

Coun. Sheena Hughes brought both items forward as one motion but council split them and voted on each part separately. The motions were defeated in 4-3 and 5-2 votes.

However, the votes don’t mean the library borrowing or branch library project is getting a green light. The matter would need to come back to council in order to proceed.

Hughes said she put the motions forward due to the result of a plebiscite where 63 per cent of people who voted in the 2017 municipal election cast their ballots against proceeding with further planning of the branch library.

“It is our responsibility to respect the will of the public,” Hughes said.

City manager Kevin Scoble said had the motions passed administration would have interpreted them as a “full stop” on the library project.

“We would not continue with any planning of a library at all. It would be removed from the capital budget,” he said.

Once split, the first part of the motion dealt with repealing a borrowing bylaw that passed in July to allow council to borrow up to $21.9 million for the library’s construction.

The motion failed with Mayor Cathy Heron, Coun. Natalie Joly, Coun. Ken MacKay and Coun. Jacquie Hansen voting against it. Hughes, Coun. Wes Brodhead and Coun. Ray Watkins voted in favour of repealing the bylaw.

Brodhead said while he was campaigning he heard from residents who were reluctant to borrow for the project but who weren’t opposed to the concept of a branch library.

“What I heard was that the vote against the branch was as much a vote against the borrowing bylaw as it was against anything else,” he said.

Joly, MacKay and Hansen said they felt they needed more information before making a decision. They pointed to a report councillors expect to receive in the second quarter of 2018 on facility development as something that would give them the information they seek.

“Keeping this bylaw in place gives us the flexibility to consider what the administration brings back,” Joly said.

“I’m going to be voting against this motion because I want to keep our options open and because I know nothing is going to happen as far as borrowing until we make a decision on how to move forward,” Joly said.

While an administrative background report on the branch library motion suggested council could consider voting to postpone the motion until after that 2018 report, the vote went forward on Hughes’ motion instead.

Heron said she felt it would not be “appropriate” for the council to make a decision quickly in light of the upcoming report.

“If we’re going to say we’re open to some further discussions with the library board and solving their space needs, we should probably be keeping this borrowing bylaw option open,” she said.

Council also failed the second part of Hughes’ motion, which was to discontinue further planning for the library’s construction. Hughes and Watkins voted in favour while Heron, Joly, MacKay, Brodhead and Hansen voted against it.

“I just think I was elected to do what the people said, and we had a plebiscite, and the people said ‘No more library for now,’ ” Watkins said.

Hughes said she wasn’t surprised by the vote or debate but felt it was necessary for residents to know council’s intentions on the library.

“The reality is that I want to make sure the public understands that this plan for the branch library is far from dead,” she said.

“Unfortunately, it looks like this council, once elected, is not planning to listen to the public.”

Before voting, MacKay said he still hasn’t decided whether to abide by the plebiscite vote and wants to wait for the 2018 report from city staff.

“I still may make a decision at that particular time, and that would still respect the results of the plebiscite. It doesn’t have to be tonight,” he said.

Heron said to not consider solutions for library space would mean not serving residents well.

“I will never use the word that we disrespected the voters – I think we just heard different messages,” she said.

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