Council voted down nearly $500,000 worth of upgrades to its meeting desk, as well as the technology used to broadcast council meetings online, during Monday's 2024 budget deliberations.
Several motions were put forward to upgrade council's meeting desk in St. Albert Place, which has been largely untouched since it was built in 1984.
The desk currently doesn't meet federal accessibility standards as the mayor's seat is raised by a step, meaning those in wheelchairs wouldn't be able to work at the desk during council meetings.
Several members of council previously said many of the desk's plug-ins don't work, and depending on where they sit, some councillors are unable to see city staff members during council meetings.
The first of two motions to upgrade the desk was put forward by Coun. Wes Brodhead. For $192,000 the desk would have been made accessible, and repaired or renovated to address other issues.
During debate, Brodhead said if council voted against making the bench accessible, the city would be sending a message to those with impaired mobility that their disability prohibits them from assuming the role of mayor.
“I don't think that's what we want to say,” Brodhead said. “What we have an opportunity to do here is have an engineered solution and an opportunity to upgrade this to the standard that is actually [up to] code.”
Coun. Sheena Hughes said the city shouldn't wait for someone with mobility challenges to be elected to council before the desk is made accessible.
“I don't think that we want to be in a situation [where] ... someone who does have a physical challenge is elected and then we have to somehow, on the fly, try to modify a bench that is not easy to modify just because we didn't have the foresight to do it in advance,” she said.
Mayor Cathy Heron, speaking against the motion, said she didn't think the desk was a high priority for city capital spending.
“Obviously, I think [accessibility is] important, but I feel like there are areas in the city that maybe need to be addressed before council chambers,” Heron said.
“I don't think the fact that our chambers is not completely wheelchair accessible is keeping people from putting their name on the ballot. And I would hope that they would consider themselves welcome to run, and if they're successful, we would find a plan to make it work.”
Brodhead's motion was defeated with Broadhead, Hughes, and Coun. Natalie Joly in favour.
The other unsuccessful motion to renovate the desk, put forward by Coun. Mike Killick, would have involved the city spending $65,000 on renovating the desk to address all issues except accessibility.
“I think that is the best use of capital dollars and still meets the vast majority of our [needs],” Killick said.
Despite voting in favour of Brodhead's motion, Joly opposed Killick's motion as it didn't address the desk's accessibility barriers.
“It doesn't address that really important issue,” she said. “Certainly it is less expensive, but I would rather spend more and do it right.”
Killick's motion was defeated with Killick, Brodhead, and Hughes in favour.
Council also narrowly defeated a motion put forward by Hughes to spend $293,800 next year to upgrade the technology used to administer and broadcast council and committee meetings.
The upgrades would have been limited to new technology for administration to manage council meetings, and “touch screen discussion stations” for each councillor in council chambers, where regular meetings take place, and in the Douglas Cardinal Boardroom, where most committee meetings take place.
The discussion stations would function largely like computers, as the stations would have microphones, cameras, and would be able to show meeting agendas and vote results, an administrative report explains.
During debate, Hughes said she thought the upgrades would greatly improve the quality of council meeting livestreams, which is something she's had residents tell her was an issue.
“This is not a small community, we're a professional community and we should be putting on a professional image as we portray our meetings,” Hughes said.
“The reality is also that if you want the public to actually watch the meetings, we need to actually put out meetings that are more professionally done than zooming around back and forth, especially Douglas Cardinal Boardroom, which is abysmal as far as actually watching and following.”
Heron, who also opposed this motion, said on Monday she's never had a resident tell her there was an issue with the quality of council meeting livestreams, and the nearly $300,000 price tag was too much.
“I think we're fine as is,” Heron said.
Council needed less than five hours to finalize next year's budget on Monday, and despite some additions and removals, the 2024 property tax increase is set to remain at 5.5 per cent, and the 7.2 per cent increase to monthly utility fees also remained the same.
Council will formally approve the 2024 budget next month.