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Council whittles down tax increase

City council shaved a few points off its projected property tax increase after jumping headlong into budget motions Thursday evening. Based on the motions passed thus far, the residential tax increase sits at 2.

City council shaved a few points off its projected property tax increase after jumping headlong into budget motions Thursday evening.

Based on the motions passed thus far, the residential tax increase sits at 2.96 per cent while the non-residential increase is 3.02 per cent. The budget originally proposed by administration called for increases of 3.6 and 3.66 per cent, respectively.

Council plowed through about 80 motions during a marathon six-hour budget meeting Thursday. After weeks of meetings spent gathering information, it was the first session that involved actual budget decisions.

There are about 40 motions to deal with at the next meeting on Tuesday, which Mayor Nolan Crouse has pledged will be the last. The time has been moved ahead to 2 p.m.

That meeting promises to have the greatest impact on the bottom line, as all the larger ticket items have been deferred until then. That's also when council will debate Coun. Len Bracko's motion to limit the property tax increase to 1.5 per cent.

Marketing manager

Among the decisions made Thursday was an approval of administration's request to hire a marketing manager.

Coun. Malcolm Parker led the charge in advocating for the position, saying he's felt for a long time that the city needs someone to spearhead the marketing of the city.

"We do a lot of planning," Parker said. "It's time to now move forward and take some of that planning and sell our city."

Coun. Cam MacKay was staunchly opposed, feeling it was premature for council to be hiring a marketing manager when it hasn't identified its priorities yet. MacKay felt the job description was vague and that marketing by word of mouth is the most effective.

"We should be talking about this city rather than hiring a marketing manager," he said.

After council had voted down MacKay's motion to unfund the position, Crouse successfully moved that the job be more clearly defined before the money is spent. Council also agreed to decrease the salary to $85,000, $3,700 less than the amount proposed by administration.

RCMP parking lot

Council voted down a move by Parker to postpone a $220,000 capital project to develop an overflow parking lot at the RCMP detachment. Parker wanted to defer the project until 2013 rather than fund it in 2011.

"I'm not convinced that it's really needed at this time," he said.

The parking lot at the detachment is usually full, making it hard for the public and police officers to find a parking space, said Insp. Warren Dosko last week.

Crouse noted that the project was requested last year and council put it off until the 2011 budget. He didn't want to defer it again.

"As we grow we're likely going to be faced with having to do this," he said.

The lot will be developed on a vacant parcel behind the neighbouring fire hall.

LRT study

Coun. Len Bracko failed to generate support for his wish to pay for an LRT study next year. Bracko feels the city should start studying how a future LRT line will be aligned within St. Albert, after the northwest line from Edmonton reaches the southern border.

Bracko has repeatedly called the study a necessity for the city to secure federal and provincial funding.

Most of council felt the $500,000 price tag was premature given Edmonton's extension of its northwest line to St. Albert is years away.

"It's not a priority. It's premature. It's a lot of money," said Coun. Malcolm Parker.

Mea culpa

A $59,000 budget request by the 150th anniversary committee for lease space drew an admission of guilt from the mayor.

The city provided space to the committee at city hall but the single cubicle was too small and led to growing irritation between staff and committee members, Crouse said. When the issue came up internally, he hastily told the committee to "just go get some space and we'll cross the bridge later."

"I feel I made a mistake when I didn't perhaps deal with that at the next council meeting," he told council Thursday. "That's exactly how we got where we got. We are now the council that's got to deal with it because I didn't deal with it at the time."

Coun. Cathy Heron moved that the leasing costs be unfunded because the committee has already been earmarked $500,000 from the city and had promised not to come back for more money. She felt the city should stop bankrolling the event and work on generating support.

"I think we need to get community onside instead of hearing them complain about the cost of this," she said.

Council approved her motion to unfund the amount, with Crouse, Bracko and Coun. Roger Lemieux opposed.

Flagpole

Council passed a motion by Crouse to spend $4,000 to add a fourth flagpole in front of city hall.

With its existing three flagpoles, the city flies its own city flag, the Canada flag, and the provincial flag. During special events like M├ętis Week or the Special Olympics the city flies two flags on one pole, which is an unacceptable practice, Crouse said.

"It's a piece of etiquette that I think we should follow, that is worldwide, that you don't fly two flags on the same flagpole," he said.

Council agreed unanimously.