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City tweaks policy for public projects

Confusion about the funding of a local play park has prompted city council to tighten up its oversight of city-funded projects.

Confusion about the funding of a local play park has prompted city council to tighten up its oversight of city-funded projects.

Meeting as the standing committee on finance last week, council agreed to tighten its rules so projects that experience a scope change must return to council before proceeding. This means that city-funded projects that tap into other sources of funding can’t simply spend all the money they receive but must first update city council and gain final approval.

The change came about after an embarrassing moment for St. Albert MLA Ken Allred and Mayor Nolan Crouse. Both dignitaries were caught off guard last August at a cheque presentation event that saw Allred present the St. Albert Kinettes with a grant of $100,000 to replace the aging playground at the Woodlands Water Play Park site.

The project is now proceeding with $150,000 from the city’s capital budget and $100,000 from the province’s Community Facility Enhancement Program.

At the time, Allred wasn’t aware that the city had initiated the project while Crouse wasn’t aware that city administration had gotten the Kinettes involved.

“It was a little bit embarrassing to Nolan, I know, and to myself because we really didn’t know what was going on in the background and when we found out we both expressed a little bit of concern,” said Allred.

He later sent a private letter to the mayor expressing his unease.

“That’s not really right,” he said in an interview. “I think we’ve got to be a little more up front and transparent about these sorts of things.”

City administration got the Kinettes involved because the charitable group could access the provincial grant whereas the city isn’t allowed to apply, Allred said. The problem, Allred said, is that the city already gets provincial dollars through the Municipal Sustainability Initiative, which is meant to cover municipal projects.

“So many of the grants come through from municipalities under the guise of friends of this and friends of that,” he said. “It uses up all the funds and other community groups are not able to access it.”

In the case of the Woodlands project, the Kinettes and/or city administration ramped up the scope beyond what council had approved after receiving the provincial dollars, Crouse said.

“I went and looked at it and said, ‘that’s wrong,’” Crouse said. “That’s money that we could allocate elsewhere.”

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