St. Albert voters may get the chance to have their say on which capital projects the city moves forward with over the next three years.
Coun. Bob Russell brought forward a motion Jan. 23 that would have a question put to the voters in the October 2017 municipal election about major capital projects in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
“What a wonderful opportunity the civic election gives us to put a question to the voters,” he said.
He said he has heard a lot of criticism about how the city’s capital priorities survey was done, and said there are two online polls active right now asking what major projects, if any, the city should have pursued in the 2017 budget. One is on the website mybirdie.ca and the other is on the St. Albert Poliwings discussion group on Facebook.
Russell said both appear to show most respondents would have preferred council not moving forward with any of the major capital projects, although that’s only true in the case of the mybirdie.ca poll.
“I don’t put a lot of weight on either one of those, but with the questions people raised about our survey, it seems to me this is an opportunity nobody could complain about,” Russell said.
Council approved building a new branch library as part of the 2017 budget, but postponed funding a new arena ice surface and aquatics facility until 2018, a move which has drawn some mixed reactions from residents.
Council has not yet passed this motion and voted 6-1 to postpone discussion on what, exactly, the wording of the question would be until the March 13 standing committee of the whole meeting.
Mayor Nolan Crouse voted against the postponement, saying he wanted the issue dealt with sooner because it could mean “hundreds of hours of work” for administration to get the question ready to put on the ballot – including a lengthy communication process to ensure voters understand what’s being asked.
Any question put on the ballot would not be binding on council, but could provide a measure of how voters feel about certain projects.
But while councillors voted to support further discussions about the motion, some raised doubts about how the question could be managed.
Coun. Wes Brodhead said given the complexity of the issue – multiple capital projects in question and multiple costs associated with those projects – it would be difficult to craft the question.
“I think we’re going to rue the day we pass this,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting to see if we can come up with a question or questions we all agree on, that is clear and concise and understandable.”
He also said there would need to be a conversation about how council would interpret the results of any question. For example if council asked residents to pick their one top priority from a list of 10 projects, it’s likely none would get more than 50 per cent of the votes.
“If you want to make sure nothing happens, just put five or six options on the ballot,” he said, adding the next council could then argue about that for the next two years.
Coun. Tim Osborne expressed reservations about postponing, saying he was worried about what impact it could have on projects that are already approved. Osborne sits on the library board, and has been a proponent of council approving the branch library project.
“I don’t consider the library one of (the options),” Russell said. “The decision has been made. As far as I’m concerned, that won’t be on the list.”