Plebiscite questions up for debate


St. Albert city council will consider three items relating to an upcoming plebiscite when they meet on Tuesday.

The items begin with a motion from Coun. Cathy Heron for potential land purchase and detailed design of the library branch to be funded from the city’s capital reserves instead of through debt, should the next council decide to resume land negotiations.

That will be followed by a presentation by city staff regarding three plebiscite questions and a motion from Mayor Nolan Crouse to amend the plebiscite questions.

Crouse said the three topics are “very intertwined.”

“It may take us a while to get through that,” he said.

The wording for Crouse’s amendments has been finalized. The current questions ask if voters support a library branch, ice rink and aquatics facility, and give building costs, annual operating costs and estimated tax increases for each.

Crouse’s motion would change the questions to ask if voters are in favour of the city proceeding with further planning for each project.

His changes would also mean the plebiscite includes a preamble noting the three projects are in the city’s 10-year capital plan and are in preliminary planning stages, with capital costs, operating costs and tax increases yet to be determined.

“I think it’ll be very, very heavily debated,” Crouse said.

Coun. Cam MacKay previously told the Gazette he expected someone will question whether the amendments should be on the agenda at all, given the amount of notice for Crouse’s motion as well as the fact the current questions were approved in May.

MacKay confirmed in an email he intends to bring up both points during the council meeting on Sept. 5.

Heron said she decided to bring forward her motion after hearing questions from residents about why the city would borrow funding when the detailed design has not yet been done for the library branch.

“That will actually nail down numbers for the library branch, and before you do the detailed design you need to buy the land,” she said.

“We have a lot of money in reserves … and I said, ‘Why don’t we, instead of taking on debt, fund the purchase of the land and the detailed design out of our reserves?’ ”

The motion hinges on whether or not the next council directs the city manager to resume land negotiations.

“I was very clear in the wording of my motion that none of this money would be spent … until after the election and after the people have had a chance to have their voice heard on the ballot question,” Heron said.

If approved, a second part of her motion aims to update tax numbers on the plebiscite questions. The current estimated tax increase tied to the library branch is 3.4 per cent but that would change if council used capital reserves, Heron said.

“I’m hoping that by borrowing less money we don’t have as big interest payments and we reduce the tax impact, which is really the goal,” she said.


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April Hudson

April is the editor of the St. Albert Gazette