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Rule changes for election signs and debt funding, plus future council office spaces on the agenda

St. Albert city council's committee of the whole has a jam-packed Tuesday agenda.

St. Albert city council's committee of the whole has a jam-packed Tuesday agenda, with items up for discussion including some changes being proposed to the bylaw regulating election signs and to the bylaw dictating how the city uses debt to fund projects, as well as a discussion about potential office spaces for council after next year's election.

The changes being proposed to the city's Traffic Bylaw affecting election signs are limited to requiring that signs advertising the same candidate, or the same position on a referendum, must be at least 20 metres apart; all election signs must be two metres away from a curb or roadway if no curb exists; and a reduction to the list of allowed roads that signs can be set up along.

Administration's proposed changes stem from a successful motion put forward by Coun. Mike Killick last fall that asked administration to see whether or not the city's election signage regulations were still up-to-date and still followed best practices, with a special focus on “achieving greater public safety” and reducing the “environmental impact” of election signs.

A report to council about the changes says administration thinks each of the proposed changes would survive a Charter challenge as each change “relates to achieving the public purposes of greater public safety and reduced environmental impact.”

“Adding restrictions... that specify the distance from the curb and from another election sign that is the same... would likely improve driver sight lines and reduce unnecessary election signage, both of which are substantial and important enough reasons to justify the restrictions,” the report reads.

The Gazette will have further coverage of the changes being proposed as well as comment from councillors to come.

Debt management policy changes

More than a year after council held a special committee of the whole meeting just to discuss the city's use of debt to fund projects, administration is proposing some significant changes to the policy dictating how the city uses debt.

The first of two major changes being proposed is the creation of a new internally-set limit on how much annual debt payments are budgeted for each year. Currently no such limit exists, but the limit being proposed is that debt servicing (payments) “shall not exceed 18 per cent of the city's consolidated operating expense budget.”

However, a report to council about the policy change says the 18 per cent limit “excludes any amount budgeted for existing debt servicing.” It's not immediately clear if this means the new limit will be grandfathered in and in addition to the roughly $11.5 million to $12.3 million in debt payments the city is set to make per year for the next three years, or if, for example, the new limit being proposed is on a project-by-project basis, and no individual project should have debt payments that are more than 18 per cent of the city's annual operating expense.

The city did not immediately respond to the Gazette's request for clarity on the new proposed limit, however, if the new limit is being grandfather in, that means the city would have a debt servicing limit of nearly $46 million this year, which would only increase in the years to come.

The other major change being proposed by administration is that the city will continue to budget annually for debt payments even after a tax-supported debenture (project) is paid off, and those funds will just be added to the city's tax base (annual tax levy) moving forward.

This means that, for example, if the $901,000 the city will pay this year to service the debt of Fire Hall No. 4 was the last payment the city needed to make before the debt was fully paid off, the city's annual budget in 2025 wouldn't be $901,000 less, and instead, the city would continue to collect the $901,000 in property taxes and use those funds to either pay for other, non-debt supported, projects in 2025, or use it towards debt servicing requirements for a new project that the city is just beginning to pay back.

This change, according to a report to council, is “to mitigate tax swings.”

“To mitigate tax swings as a result of debt retiring or new debt, any 'savings' due to the retirement of a debenture will not be used to reduce the tax levy, instead the budgeted funds will be temporarily applied to [the city's Pay-As-You-Go program] until such time as new debt is added,” the report reads.

The Gazette will have further coverage of the changes being proposed as well as comment from councillors to come.

Council office space

After voting last summer to consider the role of a councillor a full-time job following the 2025 municipal election, council is now being presented with three options to provide future councillors with office space, something only Mayor Cathy Heron is afforded now.

RELATED: Council approves pay hike of nearly $30,000

The idea for providing office space, and additional administrative support staff, to council following the next election was put forward by Coun. Natalie Joly last July.

The first of three options is to spend about $500,000 renovating some office space on the third floor of St. Albert Place adjacent to Heron's office to provide each of St. Albert's six councillors with an office space, as well as a shared kitchen.

A pros and cons list included in the committee of the whole meeting agenda package says this option is beneficial due to the close proximity that mayor and council would be working, and because the $500,000 cost is up front and not long term.

The second option being presented to the committee on Tuesday is to lease office space for council somewhere downtown. This option is estimated to cost about $90,000 per year, but an additional one-time cost of between $125,000 and $150,000 would also be needed to furnish the space and provide council with the required electronics and work equipment.

The last option is to provide each member of council a $1,000 stipend per council term that each can spend on furniture to establish a home office.

The Gazette will have further coverage on what the committee decides to come.

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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